He had a unique name, he had an infectious smile, and when he played, he played to win — and to inspire his teammates.
Messiah Ajayi Clark, a 2015 graduate of Hewlett High School who lived in Valley Stream, died in a July 21 car accident in Hempstead. He was 24.
Given the Biblical name Messiah by his father, Isaac, Clark, by many accounts, did his best to live up to his majestic moniker. “He was free-spirited, a go-getter who wanted to flourish and made everyone smile,” Flora Ajayi said of her only child.
“When he played sports, he played hard, and always wanted to share the winning as a team, not as individuals. He wanted to boost others up and make everyone better.”
Clark played football and basketball at Hewlett High, and was considered a prominent athlete, with good size and skill. A two-way starter in football, he carried the ball as a running back and tackled his opposite numbers as a linebacker. He was a forward on the basketball squad.
Bill Dubin is a special-education teacher at Hewlett High who has taught in the Hewlett-Woodmere School District for nearly 35 years and has been the boys’ basketball coach for 21.
“He was a talented competitor,” Dubin said of Clark. “He played physically and with passion.” Dubin noted that Clark volunteered with the basketball team after he graduated, attending games and working with the players in the off-season to help them improve their skills.
“He would sit in the stands behind the bench at games, then he would meet with the rest of the coaching staff after games as we recapped games,” Dubin recalled. “He had a player’s point of view that was always interesting. He had a smile that was a mile wide. It was infectious. He was great to be around. He will be missed by all that knew him.”
After graduating from Hewlett, Clarke earned a bachelor’s degree from the Pennsylvania College of Technology and was making a career as an aviation mechanic, working at Hawthorne Global Aviation Services in Ronkonkoma. He had passed two of the five required tests to earn certification as a mechanic.
“Messiah was personable and made friends easily,” said former Hewlett head football coach Jay Iaquinta. “He was respectful, unselfish and a natural leader.”
Grieving family and friends gathered outside the high school for a remembrance vigil two days after Clarke died. “He lit up the room — you couldn’t be sad around him,” Ajayi said. “At the vigil at the high school, all the students had a story [about Messiah].”
Dubin, who attended the vigil and thinks of his players like sons, said, “No matter how old they are, they will always be boys to me. I was always on him to get better, and his mom told me he needed it and ate it up, even if we disagreed.”
Family friend Soonia Budhan-Manzano posted on Facebook: “This kid touched my heart when he was playing football with my kids. . . . Today, I’m heartbroken that this young soul is gone too soon.”
There is a viewing from 3 to 6 p.m. with the funeral service at 6 o.m. on Monday, Aug. 2 at the Merrick Baptist Church at 120-02 Marsden Street in Jamacia. The srvice will be livestreamed on Facebook @Merrick Baptist Church of Jamaica New York.
Budhan-Manzano and Kelly McMahon were raising money to help Clark’s mother. Donations can be made via Venmo to @Kelly-McMahon or @Soonia-Manzano, or to https://www.gofundme.com/f/in-memory-of-messiah.
Tony Bellissimo contributed to this story.