Charles Clayton shares his lessons

Paul Stevens

Charles Clayton is the first to admit that he learned life’s lessons the hard way.

He was a member of the Dodgers’ 1988 state championship basketball team coached by Tom Goodman but his playing time was limited by an attitude problem, he said: “I thought I could buck the system and just be an ass.” He later played a year at Des Moines Area Community College but didn’t get invited back.

A couple years later, he was arrested for shooting a rifle into the air in a residential neighborhood on New Year’s Eve.

“I was young, dumb and careless,” he said. No one was hurt but it resulted in a conviction on a charge of nonforcible terrorism. He served a year of his five-year sentence in county jail and a residential facility.

“Here I was, a 21-year-old black male in Fort Dodge, Iowa, with a felony conviction for terrorism,” he recalled of the critical juncture of his life.

“It’s a teaching lesson I use with the kids,” he added, referring to the hundreds of young people and their families who have benefited from the nonprofit he founded in 2004, Athletics for Education and Success (AFES), which offers afterschool programs, sports teams and leagues, mentoring groups, drum-line groups, and educational and cultural opportunities.

“I kind of look at it as a blessing,” Clayton said. “At the same time a lot of guys I was hanging with got arrested for drugs, and all got 5 to 20 years. I looked at myself and thought, God looked after me, he gave me a slap on the wrist versus a punch in the face. I learned I needed to be accountable to myself. I can do better than this.”

In Jerry Patterson — who devoted six decades of his life to Fort Dodge youths — Clayton found a savior.

“I was having a hard time getting a job, and Jerry hired me to work at his baseball field and helped me get work at the YMCA. That really led to a domino effect of people seeing me work there, leading to other jobs because of that.”

Clayton found more people in his corner. While earning his bachelor’s degree from Buena Vista University, he worked as a teacher’s associate in the Fort Dodge school system. Clayton credits three school officials with helping get the position — then-Superintendent Dr. David Haggard, middle school Principal Dr. Phil Wormsley (whose son Scott was Clayton’s high school basketball teammate) and elementary school Principal Steve Harbaugh.

Clayton assisted in behavior disorder problems in the middle school.

“There weren’t a lot of things they could try that I had not already done,” he said.

After working five years at the middle school, Clayton joined the Rabiner Treatment Center as coordinator of residential services and worked there for seven years. Working at Rabiner is what gave him the idea for starting AFES, he said.

“I was working with kids who were court-ordered to be there,” he said. “I wanted to do something on the other end of this — instead of being there after they already made mistakes, I wanted to be more preventative, before they got into trouble. Sometimes it can be so engrained in their thinking, and by the time you get to them, it’s too late.”

AFES began with sports camps in 2005-06.

“We had 40 or more kids, from all economic and racial backgrounds, whoever showed up was more than welcome. That took us to forming teams and leagues. We paid for everything ourselves.

“We noticed that some kids were playing a lot of sports but their grades were bad or attitudes bad in school. So we started afterschool for fifth- and sixth-graders, to get grades up so they could play sports. And they were dragging along their first- and second-grade brothers or sisters with them. We were quickly getting 40 to 60 kids a day.”

Clayton rented out space in the Snell Building for the AFES after-school program.

“The kids knew behavior, attendance and grades in school would allow them to participate fully — or not.”

Today, AFES operates from the former Hillcrest Elementary School, purchased in 2010 from the school district for $1,000. Five years later, the Martin Luther King Recreation Center was built next door. Before construction began, AFES raised nearly half of the $1 million it cost to build.

Clayton’s father, Charles Butler, died about 10 years ago and his mother, Rebecca Fields, and her husband Terrence Fields, live in Fort Dodge. Clayton’s sister, Shirley Clayton, lives in Kansas City; another sister, Jackie Garcia, died a year ago.

“My dad was not a part of my life — as I got older he and I had a friendship bond but never a father-son thing,” Clayton said. “It impacted me. With three sons of my own, I made sure I was the best father I could be, raise them the right way, to be there no matter what.”

Clayton and Joy Schauper are parents of three sons: Nathaniel, 21; Solomon, 20; and Malcolm, 18. Solomon and Malcolm played basketball at FDSH and are now playing on scholarship at Iowa Lakes Community College in Estherville. Nathaniel works for his father at AFES.

Goodman recalls that Clayton missed the first part of the 1989 Dodgers’ season with a broken ankle in the opening game but persevered, rehabbed and played through the injury as the team won the conference title.

“Today, he has done the same thing,” Goodman said. “He was determined to build that gym for the youth of Fort Dodge and now it is a huge success and everyone in the Fort Dodge area should be proud of what Charles has done with nothing more than sheer determination to get this project completed for the kids of Fort Dodge. Charles turned out to be a ‘winner’ in my book, and his experience in high school basketball of being knocked down and getting up and trying again, I feel had something to do with his attitude to get this huge project completed. He went against a lot of odds and naysayers.”