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Nate Clay
The Centralia Sports Hall of Fame
2009 Individual Award Winner


 

A 1958 graduate of Centralia High School, Clay was a three sport standout playing basketball, football and running track. He helped his teams to South Seven Conference titles in football and track. He was also a conference high hurdle champion and was a member of the 1956 undefeated football squad (8-0-1). Clay caught a touchdown pass to beat arch rival Mt. Vernon.

He turned down a football scholarship to SIU-C because he wanted to play basketball.  He went to Centralia Junior College (now Kaskaskia) and played basketball for Coach Chuck Mundell and received All-Conference honors. He also played baseball and even played tennis when a player was needed. 

From CJC, he went to McKendree College (now McKendree University) and played one season under Coach James “Barney” Oldfield, a former Centralian.  He left after that first season to go to work for Ford Motor Co. in Indianapolis, IN. A few years later, Clay returned to McKendree and captained the basketball team for first-year coach, Harry Statham, and graduated in 1967. 

Claly returned to Indianapolis to work and in June of 1970, while playing Industrial League softball, he injured his neck sliding head first into home plate. He was sliding to avoid spiking the catcher who blocked the plate. The injury left him paralyzed from the neck down but with some movement of his arms and hands. 

After a year in the hospital and rehabilitation, he moved back to Centralia with his mother and stepfather. He was not bitter about his condition and many times stated that there were people worse off than he was. Clay was quoted as saying, “I don’t want people to feel sorry for me or having pity for me because I don’t have pity for myself.”

He didn’t let the injury and confinement to a wheelchair keep him from being involved in the sports scene. In the 1970’s and early 80’s, he had a sports talk show and did sports reports for the local radio station WILY/WRXX.  He coached girl’s softball for four years and a co-ed team for another four years never having a losing season. 

Clay attended as many local events as he could. With a special device attached to one hand, he was able to use a typewriter one key at a time. He wrote his life story in a book titled “THE NATE CLAY STORY” published in 1977, and he wrote poetry having his poem “THIS MOMENT” published in the book “Today’s Greatest Poems”.

In 1994, Clay was inducted into the Kaskaskia College Sports Hall of Fame. The Blue Devil Basketball Team named their defensive award for Clay. In 1979, McKendree College established the “NATE CLAY AWARD” which is presented annually to a basketball player showing courage, determination and inspiration. Clay was inducted into the McKendree Sports Hall of Fame in 2004. 

Due to ever increasing medical difficulties, Clay passed away on July 3, 2001.


 

 

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