Historic move: Charlsea Clark hired to coach Atlantic Coast boys basketball team

Bishop Kenny girls basketball coach Charlsea Clark celebrates her team after finishing as state runner-up for the second consecutive season on Saturday. (Justin Barney)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla – In a bold move, Atlantic Coast High School has hired former Bishop Kenny girls coach and UNF women’s basketball assistant coach Charlsea Clark to coach the Stingrays boys basketball team.

Clark is believed to be the first woman to be a head coach of a boys varsity basketball team for an FHSAA high school in Jacksonville, but she doesn’t see herself as a trailblazer, instead redirecting that title to the three men in leadership at Atlantic Coast who hired her.

“The real people that deserve credit are the principal, Dr. (Michael) George, (Dean of Students) Micah Ross, and then the athletic director, Kelly Blount,” Clark said. “Those three men, I think they’re trailblazers. I think they’re the ones that had open minds and as much as they’re excited about this opportunity and this change and pioneering the way, they also reassured me that they hired me because I’m a qualified candidate. And I think that is what made me really excited. Three leaders at that school that I know are going to have my back.”

Charlsea Clark decked out in her new Atlantic Coast High School gear. (Copyright 2023 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

Clark coached Bishop Kenny’s girls for six seasons, including taking the Crusaders to the state finals in 2019 before losing to Plantation American Heritage. The next season, they returned to the state title game, losing to Lake Highland Prep. The following season saw another final four trip in 2021, again falling to Lake Highland Prep.

Her record at Bishop Kenny included 112 wins and 62 losses.

Clark left Kenny to join the women’s basketball staff at UNF. After one season, she moved into a different role at the athletic department where she served as a compliance coordinator and academic counselor.

“I definitely would not have this as the planned path,” Clark said. “It’s not like I anticipated the last two to three years happening. Even the jump to UNF was a massive blessing. But just also something that I hadn’t planned for as well.”

Clark has coached boys individually at the Clark Basketball Academy she launched in 2016. Initially, it was to give girls a chance to hone their skills, but eventually, boys started calling.

“I kept getting all the text messages, ‘Hey, can you do a guys’ training session or can you start working out guys?’ and so I started doing that,” Clark said. “There were a couple of summers where I had guys like (UNF players) Carter Hendrickson, Ryan Burkhart Ivan (Gandia-Rosa), players like Christian Carlisle and Gyassi Powell, who’s playing at JU now coming in the gym, (former UNF star) Beau Beach has been in the gym. So, just putting on these workouts for these high-level players, I think that 100% helps maybe ease some of the (concerns) that people are going to feel about this.”

Clark believes the Xs and Os part of the job will come easily. In addition to the experience gained at Bishop Kenny, she also will take what she learned at UNF and her observations of Matthew Driscoll’s practices with the men’s team and apply them to the Atlantic Coast roster.

“I’m excited to play a more up-tempo style of basketball,” Clark said. “I’ve got to let these guys operate with a little bit more freedom and play in transition and utilize their athleticism. I’m definitely excited to learn, I’m going to be big on adapting to the team and what our strengths are.”

And as for the locker room challenges that come with having a different gender coaching a team, she’s been thinking about the best ways to handle those logistical challenges.

“That’s something before accepting this position, just kind of thought about all these different things,” Clark said. “It’s just about being a professional at all times, being super sharp with just all interactions from players to parents. I’m not really worried about managing the locker room, I’m just going to be really sharp with everything that we’re doing. And everything we’re going to do is buy the book and just be a professional.”