Sue Clark, whose success as Tucson High School's girls tennis coach led to countless accolades and a feature in Sports Illustrated's "Faces in the Crowd," died Saturday morning after a long illness. She was 80.
Clark had been in declining health for the last few years, friends said. The coach had been under hospice care for two months.
Clark took her place among Tucson High School legends when, between 1958-72, she led the Badgers to 213 consecutive victories. The streak earned Clark a spot in Sports Illustrated's "Faces in the Crowd" feature on May 15, 1972.
During that span, Clark's team won every division championship, 11 state crowns and one state co-championship.
Clark was named the Arizona Daily Star's coach of the year in 1967, the first woman to win the award. She received the Arizona State Coaches Association Certificate of Merit Award and the Star's Outstanding Achievement Award in 1972. Clark left Tucson High that year, then spent one season at Sabino High School.
Clark was inducted into the Pima County Sports Hall of Fame in 2000. In a 2011 interview with the Star, Clark said her run of success "wasn't me; it was the kids."
"They fought to win," she said. "I'm proud of them, and even more proud of what they've become."
Clark's coaching methods were both simple and ahead of their time, said Paula Aboud, a Badgers star from 1964-68 and former state senator.
Clark was motherly with her players, often driving them back from practices and matches before returning home to take care of her own parents. She made ceramic trinkets for many of her players, items that became instant keepsakes.
When Aboud made her Tucson High debut, she did so in a dress hand-made by her coach and another one of the Badgers' players.
Aboud, who played semi-professionally and coached before entering politics, called Clark "my role model and my mentor."
Ed Nuñez, Clark's longtime mixed doubles partner and a former boys tennis coach at Pueblo High School, said the relationship between Clark and her players was genuine.
"They were not just student and teacher and student and coach: They were family," he said.
Clark, a native of Van Horn, Texas, who attended Phoenix College, Sul Ross State University and the UA, knew little about tennis and had no coaching experience when she took over the Tucson High program. To improve, she attended tennis camps in Southern California during the summers.
"She would come back with the most incredible techniques and strategies," Aboud said. "She was amazing. She was a master."
Clark, who never married, is survived by a niece and legions of players, many who met with her for monthly lunches. The Badgers were with her when Clark died Saturday.
Clark did not want a formal memorial service, so her former players will hold a celebration of life at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Golden Corral, 4380 E. 22nd St.
"She adopted us," Aboud said, "and we adopted her."
Contact sports editor Ryan Finley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4312. On Twitter @Ryan_Finley.