Clarence Fulce went to the annual FAAM All-Star Game on Thursday at Evanston Township High School’s Beardsley Gym prepared to watch some youth basketball. But the longtime volunteer coach didn’t know he was going to be celebrated as an all-star too.
Before the eighth grade boys game began, a surprise ceremony was held at midcourt. As FAAM President Omar Brown started to read a mayoral proclamation, assistant coach Tawana Sudduth-Ross escorted Fulce and his wife, Helen, to the center of the court.
Mayor Daniel Biss proclaimed Jan. 5, 2023, as “Coach Clarence Fulce Day” in Evanston in honor of Fulce’s 50 years of volunteering as a coach with FAAM, and from this point forward its annual all-star matchup will be known as the Clarence Fulce FAAM All-Star Game.
FAAM, the Fellowship of African American Men, was created in 1968 by former Evanston Police Chief William Logan and the late Gene Bell in order to provide young people a place to play basketball after school, “but also teach them larger values and lessons that would help them to be successful in all areas of life,” according to the organization’s website.
Fulce, a retired Evanston police officer, is the longest-serving coach in FAAM’s 55-year history. He started in 1973, only five years after FAAM began.
In an interview, he said both roles, police officer and youth coach, have been very fulfilling, but “there is nothing like that lightbulb moment when a kid really gets the concept and you see the look on his or her face.”
Fulce, 77, has spent his life serving his community and the nation, first as a communications expert in the U.S. Navy for four years. The mayor’s proclamation noted he served “with dignity and integrity” in the Evanston Police Department for 33 years, retiring with the rank of sergeant in 2005. And the proclamation declared Fulce has served FAAM as a coach and “as a positive role model … who has encouraged sportsmanship and teamwork and instilled respect and commitment to youth.”
Fulce grew up on the South Side of Chicago and he and his wife have been married for nearly 45 years. Helen is a retired District 65 teacher; she taught for 34 years, 29 of them at Haven Middle School.
Fulce said his favorite FAAM memory (aside from Thursday night’s ceremony, obviously) was the most recent time his team won the championship … but the year of that championship escaped him. He’s had far more than one winning season.
Patty and Mark Barbato made a point of coming over to Fulce after the ceremony to say hello and offer their congratulations. Their three sons were all coached by Fulce.
Patty Barbato shared her thoughts about the coach, saying, “He’s just a wonderful guy. When we said hello just now, he remembered us and asked for our sons by name. He calls us every year at Thanksgiving to say hello and wish our family happy holidays. He brings out the good in everybody.”
Mark Barbato agreed, calling Fulce “so much more than just a coach.”
“It’s more about their lives than basketball,” he said. “He’s unique.”
FAAM provides programs in basketball and cheerleading for all children, regardless of race, for sixth, seventh and eighth grades; girls can start in fifth grade. It has a “no cut” policy, so every child gets to play.
The FAAM website lists the values it emphasizes, including “self-respect, decision-making and learning.”
All FAAM teams are named after NBA teams. Fulce always coaches the Sixers. Said Patty Barbato, “Once a Sixer, you’re a Sixer for life. That’s our family.”