You think you've got Dorshell Clark all figured out.
The mother of the best basketball player and the best football player to come out of Oklahoma City the last two years has had a profile as high as her sons.
You first heard from her two Februarys ago when Oklahoma offered a basketball scholarship to son Stevie. Since then, she allowed him to go to prep school in Las Vegas, then put the kibosh on that odyssey and brought him back to Douglass High after a month. She sparred on air earlier this winter with a sports talk show host who'd bagged on Stevie after he was suspended at Oklahoma State.
Then last week, with signing day looming and Oklahoma and LSU football fans hanging on her every word, she made it known that she wants youngest son Deondre to play in Norman. She doesn't want him to go all the way to Baton Rouge, where he is verbally committed.
Shades of the Florida mama who absconded with her son's letter of intent last year because he wasn't going to sign with the school she wanted?
Or the Louisiana mama who touted LSU on national television moments after her son committed to Alabama?
Too involved. Meddling. Attention seeking.
You think you know Dorshell Clark?
To know her, you need to come into a small waiting room during her lunch hour at the medical office where she's a nurse. Hear her talk about the rough years when she was raising four sons on her own. Listen to her explain how the bond between her and the boys helped them survive the recruiting bubble.
Some of the struggles bring her to tears.
“People that don't even know you can say whatever, not even thinking how we would feel,” she said. “My kids are like, ‘Mom, don't talk to people. They're just going to twist around what you say.' Well, it's just a chance we have to take.
“But at some point, you hope that somebody's going to tell the real you.”
* * *
Dorshell Antionette Clark was born to a single mom and raised by a doting grandmother.
Because her mom worked many hours trying to make ends meet, Dorshell spent a lot of time with her grandma. She had a good relationship with her mom. Still does. But when she was young, she moved in with Granny.
Dorshell remembers waking up, going out to the front porch and drinking coffee with Granny and old women from the neighborhood who gathered at the red brick house near the corner of NE 20th Street and Kelley Avenue.
Dorshell never learned how to roller skate or ride a bike; Granny never taught her.
“She taught me how to watch ‘I Love Lucy' and ‘M*A*S*H',” Dorshell said.
Granny never bit her tongue and passed that candor on to her daughter and her granddaughter. Granny never had any interest in sports, so neither did Dorshell. She became a cheerleader at Roosevelt Middle and Douglass High.
Her one foray into basketball ended quickly.
“I was kinda girlie,” Dorshell said. “I was in a game, and they threw the ball, and it hit my nail, and I was done.”
“I don't think I was all that great,” she said. “So, it worked out. It gave me a good excuse to give up on that.”
Dorshell went to Langston, but before she finished her degree, she got pregnant, had son Dominique and dropped out of school.
She found an apartment with Dominique's father, who she eventually married. They had three more boys, D'angelo, Stevie and Deondre, before divorcing after nearly a decade together.
In those early years, Dorshell worked a year or so as a gas station attendant. But after the station got robbed, she realized she needed to do something different, something more.
She went to medical assistant school, then worked for OU Family Medicine for about 15 years.
She eventually returned to school to become a nurse, which led to work at Deaconess and Integris and in private practices.
She now works for Mercy Clinic Orthopedic Surgery.
“I've had to work all my life with the kids,” Dorshell said. “I have been on the go for a long time.”
It was just her and the boys for most of their childhoods. That came with challenges. There never seemed to be enough money. Or time. Or sleep.
“There wasn't a strategy,” Dorshell said of her early years as a parent. “I was young. I always listened to my mom and my grandma, so whatever they said I should do, I just did.
“It was a lot of survival.”
But difficult times and tough circumstances created an us-against-the-world mentality in Dorshell and the boys. They became a team.
The bond forged during those years was strong.
Dorshell calls her boys her best friends.
“I'd rather them look at me as a friend that they can come and talk to,” she said. “The society that we live in, you can't trust everybody ... so you open that line of communication. I've always been straight forward with them.
“Make no mistake, you get outta line, I'm comin' to get ya, but I always wanted them to feel like they could come and talk to me.”
* * *
Two summers ago, Stevie told his mom that he wanted to graduate early from Douglass.
Longtime coach Terry Long had left to coach his son at Mustang, and because the Clarks are close with Long — he went to high school with Dorshell — Stevie was distraught. He didn't want to play his senior season with a new coach.
He'd had enough.
Stevie wanted to graduate early, go to Baylor or Connecticut or Oklahoma State and start playing college basketball.
Dorshell wasn't so sure. He was already young for his class, so she didn't like the idea of him heading off to college.
They decided he'd stay at Douglass, but as the summer wore on, Stevie kept at the idea of graduating early. Dorshell finally told him to take two days and come up with a pro-and-con list.
“If you're able to show me something that I don't know,” she said, “then I'll listen.”
A couple days later, he proposed attending a first-year prep school in Las Vegas. Quest Preparatory Academy located 20 minutes from The Strip in the extreme northwest corner of the city was fledgling, but that would give Stevie a chance to leave a mark on the program.
It was a compromise.
After they visited the school, Dorshell decided to let Stevie go to Vegas, but she sent her oldest son, Dominique, to look out for him.
A few weeks after the boys moved, Dorshell went for a visit. She told the basketball coach that she needed a schedule so she could know when Stevie would be playing. He told her that he didn't have the schedule confirmed but that they would be playing a bunch of big-name schools, some of which he listed.
Dorshell reached out to the coaches of a couple of those would-be opponents. She'd met them during Stevie's time on the summer basketball circuit, and to a man, they said they'd never heard from Quest.
Dorshell called the Quest coach and told him what the other coaches had said, but still, he insisted they were scheduling those teams.
Again, Dorshell planned a trip to Vegas, this time when Stevie was supposed to have a game against Findlay Prep, the Henderson, Nev., school that counts NBA players Avery Bradley and Tristan Thompson among its alums. But as the trip approached, Dorshell was hearing Findlay had no intention of playing Quest.
She called Stevie.
“If you don't play, you're coming home,” she said. “We're not gonna argue about it because if something happens, the NCAA's gonna come down and you're gonna blow every chance you have.”
She went to Vegas.
There was no game.
Stevie and Dominique came home with Dorshell.
* * *
Dorshell doesn't worry about her boys.
She worries about the world.
When Stevie was in middle school, people started to notice his basketball talent. Coaches for traveling teams were contacting Douglass trying to get Stevie to join them.
One of them was Gary Vick, who has coached the likes of Blake Griffin and Xavier Henry in the successful Athletes First program. The coach promised to take good care of Stevie.
But while Stevie was on one of his first out-of-town trips, he called his mom needing money to help feed the rest of the team. He said the coaches checked the players into their hotel and left them there alone.
It was almost midnight, but Dorshell took out for Dallas.
“I'm going to stay with you,” she told Stevie when she arrived.
“Mom,” he told her, “I'm supposed to be a big boy.”
“You are a big boy, but you're not going to be a big boy in a hotel by yourself and you're 13.”
Vick wasn't on that trip — he'd sent his assistants to coach the team — but Dorshell said it took several conversations to convince her to keep Stevie in the program.
She couldn't imagine anything bad happening to him.
That's why she felt she had to call the Sports Animal one Tuesday afternoon last November. The day before, Stevie, in his freshman season at OSU, had been suspended for unspecified reasons by Cowboy coach Travis Ford and sent home from a tournament in Florida.
“That guy was on the radio, and he was just jabbin' Stevie,” Dorshell said, referring to host Jim Traber but never using his name. “The guy was like, ‘We know what he did.'”
She wanted him to say what Stevie did.
He insisted he couldn't say on the air.
She told him to call her at work and tell her privately.
“Then, he kind of changed his attitude and started saying, ‘Well, I think you've done a great job with your kids,'” Dorshell said. “His whole attitude changed.”
She doesn't seem to hold any ill will, and she still listens to the Sports Animal, but she felt she had to take up for her child.
“They make mistakes — I make mistakes, and I'm grown — but I still don't love 'em any less,” she said. “I still support 'em to the fullest.”
* * *
Dorshell walked into the gym at Douglass High on Tuesday night and started hugging people. Anyone in the stands who was sitting within arms' length of the court, it seemed, got a hug.
“She knows everybody in this school,” her longtime friend Jennifer Spurlock said with a smile.
When the women finally reached the other end of the court, Dorshell had more hugs. For her two oldest boys, Dominique and D'angelo, who were basketball standouts at Douglass before playing small-college hoops. For LSU defensive line coach Brick Haley, who was in town to watch Deondre play basketball a day after his mom said she would let him make his own decision but would encourage him to go to OU.
Dorshell settled on the end of the bleachers next to Spurlock and in front of Haley. She was still wearing her black scrubs with the Mercy logo embroidered on them. She hadn't been home.
Now remarried, the 44-year-old lives in the house where Granny raised her, but on Tuesdays, she doesn't see much of it.
Stevie asked his mom about two months ago to do weekly Bible study with him. So every Tuesday, Dorshell leaves work and drives straight to Stillwater. She reads scripture with him. She prays with him.
Half a dozen other athletes regularly join them.
“If God has brought you this far, you can't just drop him off like luggage and put him to the side,” Dorshell said. “You just leave room for the devil to get in and get busy.”
She shook her head ever so slightly.
“I honestly believe that is what has happened with Stevie.”
A little over a month ago, Stevie was arrested for marijuana possession.
“You know what?” Dorshell said. “If it's going to help my baby, I would've driven to Kansas and back.”
Still, going to see Stevie makes for busy Tuesdays. Deondre usually has a basketball game like he did earlier this week against Southeast, and try as she might, Dorshell didn't make it to the gym until halftime.
But a few minutes into the third quarter when Deondre stood up off the bench to check in, it was like Dorshell had a sixth sense. She immediately started clapping.
“Let's go, Big Daddy!” she hollered.
Once he was on the court, she kept yelling.
“Call the foul!”
“Play some defense!”
Then Deondre caught a pass, drove to the basket and made contact with a defender. It was a push off or a block.
The Southeast fans went nuts.
Dorshell just sat and clapped.
Dorshell Clark knows that you think you've got her all figured out. She's heard that some people think she's too involved in the lives of her sons.
“Well,” she said, “if I wasn't as involved as I am, people would take advantage of them.”
She knows she has to let the boys grow and go, but that doesn't mean she doesn't worry about them. She knows, after all, what a mean world this can be. She saw it as a child. She saw it as young mother.
Now all of this.
“The last two years have been a whirlwind,” she said. “A bad one. A really bad whirlwind. But we've overcome.
“Whatever mistakes I've made, whatever bad advice I gave, I have to say I'm sorry, but we pick up and keep ... pushing.”
Jenni Carlson can be reached at 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.