MIDDLETOWN, NJ: Middletown High School South Girls Cross Country Coach, William Clifton, isn’t just tops in the state, but the nation.
After being named the New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) coach of the year, as well as the Northeast Regional coach of the year, Clifton was recently recognized by the National Federation of State High Schools Girls Cross Country Coach of the Year for the 2019 season.
Clifton and the Eagles secured an array of post-season hardware that year, including victories at the Monmouth County and Shore Conference meets, followed by a North 2 Group III sectional title, and an overall Group III State Championship. The club closed out its campaign with a third placed finish at the NJSIAA Meet of Champions.
“He’s certainly one of the greats in a long history of incredible coaches in Middletown,” Middletown Township Public Schools Director of Athletics, Rich Carroll, said of Clifton, who completed his 19th season at the helm of the High School South girls program in November.
Earlier this year, the Eagles successfully defended their county championship, but the season was cut short in November due to COVID-19 protocols.
In total, Clifton has led Middletown South to 12 division championships, three county titles and two conference championships. At the state championship level, the Eagles have collected seven sectional championships and two group titles.
“I’m very thankful that I’ve had the opportunity all these years to be a positive influence on a teenager’s life,” Clifton said during an April 27 recognition ceremony hosted by the Middletown Township Public School District. “I also have to thank the team for having the confidence and belief in the staff, and then just going on to be such strong women, not only as athletes, but as people too.”
Over the past two decades, Clifton’s wife, Kathleen, has served as his assistant coach, helping to develop what Carroll referred to as “a family atmosphere,” which he believes contributes to the program’s perennial success.
“Anybody who is in the know, knows that none of this would be possible without Kathleen,” Clifton said.
“For cross country teams, it’s just different. There aren’t any spectators out along the course, so it’s all about comradery. What (William and Kathleen) have built here over the years is a family. To the athletes, it is a family, and he and Kathleen are the parents. Current and former runners alike, they all stick together,” Carroll added.
Clifton is in his 44th season of cross country coaching, following a 20-year tenure at Kearney High School. He was inducted into the Kardinals Athletics Hall of Fame in 2012. Kathleen is also a member of the Kearney Hall of Fame after an impressive scholastic running career of her own.
Despite the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, the Eagles were still recognized as the third-ranked team in the state.