Remembering My Days Coaching Track And Field………………….By RC

Forty years ago this spring, I was finishing my first year of coaching at Aspermont High School. I was walking across campus on one warm and windy West Texas morning in May and my coaching friend and mentor Jerald McCanlies came up to me and told me to go talk to the superintendent, the tough and absolute W.C. Robinson, about what I could do after school to earn the next Friday off to attend the state track meet in Austin.

I told him that I wasn’t really that interested in going plus as usual, I didn’t have any money to spend on a trip like that. He simply gave me no choice and took me up to Mr. Robinson’s office. Luckily he was in a good mood plus he liked me. He told me to make plans to go, that every coach in Texas should attend that meet because not only would I see great competition but learn about coaching track as well. He even kicked in enough money to pay my part of the hotel expense. The next Friday I was on my way to an experience that was so great that I turned it into an annual affair……………..

When I first began attending the state track meet, it was held in Memorial Stadium on the campus of UT. It is now Darrell K. Royal-Memorial Stadium and it no longer hosts the state track meet. The university has now built a state of the art facility just for track and field to replace the one that once circled the football field. It is much better for watching an entire meet but certainly not as fan friendly as the one held in DKR-Memorial…………………..

After I left Aspermont in 1974 I moved to Brewer High School in White Settlement on the west end of Fort Worth. It was during the one year that I spent there that I met the guy that had the most influence on the way I tried to coach track once I got into that area of the profession. During the fall semester of 1974 Bubba Thornton who had played football and ran track at TCU came back home after the World Football League was folding. I think Bubba had played for Birmingham after an NFL career with the Buffalo Bills where he started in an all-rookie backfield with QB James Harris, FB Bill Enyart, and TB O.J. Simpson. Anyhow, he came to Brewer to replace a coach who had been terminated during the football season. Bubba made an impact right away by putting in place a first class off season program. I was not part of that as I was on the basketball staff……………….

In the spring, I had no coaching assignment but when school was out I would go down to the track just to watch Bubba coach that sport. At times track can be hard to sit and watch even at a meet, so you can understand how impressed I was with his coaching just to go and watch his workouts. He got more out of kids than any track coach that I ever watched. His sprint relay that year was a group of kids with mediocre speed competing in a district that included Grapevine, Boswell, Mansfield, Azle, Everman, Burleson, and Brewer.

We should have finished near the bottom but because of immaculate hand-offs and a fighting spirit those kids ended up second and qualified for regional. His practices were fun for the kids and he never tired of helping them for as long as they wanted to stay. Sometimes the practices appeared as if they were loafing but that was the farthest from the truth. He was amazing in his knowledge of that sport and what it took to win……………..

After moving to Crowley I coached baseball and once again was not involved in track. It was because of a playoff baseball game in 1976 that cost me the opportunity to see Johnny “Lam” Jones from Lampasas to run the anchor leg for the Badgers that may be the most talked about individual performance in the history of the track meet. According to those in attendance Johnny Lam took the baton in last place even as the leader was rounding the first curve. He took off as if he was willing to settle for last, but then he kicked in the afterburners and caught the entire field winning that event for Lampasas. He had a stellar career as a wide receiver at UT and then with the New York Jets. Along the way he won Olympic gold on the 4X100 relay for the USA…………….

When I moved to DeLeon my coaching assignment included seventh grade track. This is where coaching track got in my blood. Thank goodness, I had great kids who were willing to work hard because I didn’t make it much fun but had great results. I learned from that experience and after that I made sure the kids had fun, as I had seen with Bubba Thornton. I also learned to make sure that they enjoyed the meets as much as I did………………..

After leaving DeLeon I moved to Aspermont as the head football coach and AD. I also became the head boys track coach. I was blessed with great talent there and saw two sprint relay teams make it to the state meet. Those kids had good speed but just as I had learned from watching Bubba, handoffs became the focus. They could really pass the stick and I think that we won many races just by practicing that tirelessly. It was here that I took over the girls track program as well. I love coaching girls track because when you post their workout you can consider it done about 99% of the time. With the boys you have to watch them and make sure that they carry out the orders……………

When I moved to Comanche I became the head girls coach in my third year. Now Maiden track in Comanche has a rich history including a National Record Setting 880 yard relay team. But in the early 90’s interest had fallen off a bit and needed a boost. I had moved to Comanche as an assistant football coach, assistant basketball coach, and assistant boys track coach and was itching for a chance to coach a varsity team of some kind so that I could play for a trophy. I got that opportunity in 1992. Even when I became the head football coach and athletic director in 1993 I kept the girls track job. We were beginning to make progress and I was loving it………………

During the spring just as I had done at Aspermont, I made track and field the focus of any off-season work that we were doing preparing for football and basketball seasons. We supplemented track workouts with weight workouts but speed was the focus. Success in track soon followed. We won the girls district championship in 1997-98-99 and was runner-up in 2000. The Indians were winning just as much as the Maidens were. My good friend Gary Speegle and I had great times at those track meets. It was just natural during those years for the boys tracksters to meet and congratulate the girls at the finish line and vice versa. We had so much fun………………

At the district track meet in Glen Rose in 1998, my last year as athletic director, our boys won five of the six trophies awarded that night. The varsity and JV teams won their divisions and won both 1600 meter relays and the varsity 400 meter relay. Only the JV boys sprint relay did not win. They were leading into the final handoff and had a small glitch in their exchange and allowed Glen Rose to nudge them at the finish line. The boys did not run the 800 meter relays at that time. On the same evening the girls swept every trophy event winning all eight trophies by winning the 400 meter, 800 meter, and 1600 meter relays in both the varsity and JV divisions as well as the championship trophies. We had captured 13 of 14 possible trophies. I have never seen that done before and it was a proud moment for coaches and athletes…………………

At the end of every track season was the trek to Austin to see either the Comanche kids or kids from other area schools that we had competed against during the year. Watching the 4A and 5A kids was something special too. They could really fly. In 1984 during the 4A 200 meter dash Joe DeLoach from Bay City set a national record with a 21.0 run. The next evening Stanley Kerr from Class A Snook also broke what had been the existing national record with a 21.3 time, and then some five minutes later Roy Martin from Dallas Roosevelt set the national record by turning in an unbelievable 20.0. That was some meet.

In 1979 Michael Carter from Dallas Jefferson tossed the shot put in a national record setting performance of 75’9”. He had thrown the 12 lb. shot over 80’ in a qualifiers meet earlier in Abilene. He would go on to a phenomenal football/track career at SMU before having a great professional football career with the 49ers…………………

I still go back to Austin on occasion but it is no longer an annual event. It is still quite entertaining but I miss the camaraderie of my coaching buddies being in the stands with me and my family no longer traveling with me. And while the Mike Myers facility has all the bells and whistles that any devoted track fan could wish for, it falls far short of the atmosphere provided when the meet was held in the football/track arena known as Memorial Stadium………………

So I echo the sentiments of my first superintendent and the Coach McCanlies, my mentor, when I say that no matter what any man or woman in the state of Texas is coaching, they should attend the State Track Meet at least once. Here’s betting that it won’t be their last visit………………..RC

About Ronnie Clifton

Ronnie Clifton was a Texas Football Coach for 29 years. In addition to football, Clifton also served as the head coach in basketball and both girls and boys track. “I loved being involved in and playing sports as a kid, and I soaked up every ounce of available information about any sporting event; I also love to write. What better combo for me than becoming the writer of a sports blog?”
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5 Responses to Remembering My Days Coaching Track And Field………………….By RC

  1. Marty Johnson says:

    Coach Clifton,

    I was just a sophomore when you were coaching at Brewer (along with Coach Thornton). If memory serves you stayed only a year however you may have remembered some of Track (Coach Thornton) and Baseball (Coaches Daniel and Leach). I was fortunate enough to play for the aforementioned during their last year at Brewer as well. I assume since you were at Crowley you knew Coaches Daniel and Leach. All remain a strong influence in my life to this day among some other coaches of 1974. I also wanted to reinforce upon your statement regarding the Track Team as you mentioned qualifying for Track and Field Regionals was not always automatic. DE Staats, Tommy Leblanc and Jim Gray were just a few who benefitted from Coach Thornton’s instruction. Always nice to read a positive letter from the past.
    Regards
    Marty Johnson 76

  2. Ronnie Clifton Ronnie Clifton says:

    Wow Marty, it has been a long time. So glad that you remember your high school days at Brewer. I enjoyed that one year there. I had a chance to go out to Crowley as the defensive coordinator and I took that job. Don Daniel was my high school principal there. He was a great boss and helped me more than I can explain to coach baseball. He had been one of the best in the Metroplex and unselfishly shared many of his secrets of success with me. We made the playoffs both my years there in baseball thanks in large part to Don Daniel. I didn’t really know Mike Leach.

    Bubba Thornton and I remain friends even though I have not visited with him in more than two years. His job as the head track coach at UT kept him busy and I didn’t want to bother him. He was the best at that sport that I have ever seen.

    Thanks for your comment and bringing back some great memories for me.

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