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The Journals are the premier publications for high-quality, hyperlocal news and advertising in Monmouth County, New Jersey

Mar 04, 2021

Middletown South’s Bill Clifton Honored as National Coach of the Year

On Jan. 25, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Coaches Association announced William “Bill” Clifton was named National Cross Country Coach of the Year. The recognition pertained to the 2019-20 school year.

During that season, Clifton led the Middletown High School South Eagles to the Monmouth County, Shore Conference, North 2 Group 3 State Sectional and overall Group 3 State Championships. The squad also captured titles at the Battle At Ocean County Park, the Bernie Magee Memorial Classic and the Manhattan College Invitational.

By any measure, it was truly a phenomenal season, but great success has been a hallmark of Clifton coached teams over the years. At Middletown South, he has earned 12 Divisional titles, three Monmouth County, two Shore Conference, seven State Sectional and two State Group Championships.

Bill’s wife, Kathleen, has been by his side as assistant coach for all of his 19 years at South. “My wife and co-coach, Kathleen, is the one who truly drives the program,” exclaimed Clifton. “The girls lean heavily on her for her experiences and stories about running and life. We would not be the same team without her.”

The naming of Clifton as the top coach nationwide by the NHFS was based on his record. However, those close to the program would suggest that the veteran coach’s greatest achieemenmt has been developing well-rounded student athletes over the years.

Colts Neck High School cross country Coach Jim Schlentz said of Clifton, “What I admire most about Coach Clifton is his ability to first, let the kids fall in love with the sport before getting them to work hard as they continue their improvement through all four years. The athletes know how much he cares for them, and they take with them a great love of the sport and the team once they graduate. They have lasting memories of the wonderful journey he has taken them on.”

Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School Coach Tim McLoone said, “I am a big Bill (and Kathleen) Clifton fan. I think a large part of his success is that he does create a family environment within his teams, and I often see them volunteering at other area road races. That kind of bonding goes beyond the sport and also helps lead to the fact that his teams always compete at an intense level. I think a lot of that is that they know how committed he is and they don’t want to disappoint him.”

Clifton is in his 44th year of coaching. He previously coached at Kearny High School and has been inducted into the Kearny High School Athletic Hall of Fame.

Immediately after the announcement, the newly honored coach was contacted with congratulations by many of his former runners, some who are now in their late 50s.

“I am most excited that this award has brought such a large response of former athletes,” said Clifton. “We have won a lot of championships over the years but not one of them mentioned any of them. Instead, they shared vivid memories of joys, camaraderie and laughs with structure and guidance, never-ending talks of support and confidence, smiles and the love that they can still feel. The success that Kathleen and I have had cannot possibly be measured by trophies or plaques. It is a true dream that these teens have opened up and let us into their lives. That preciousness has enhanced our lives. They have helped us much more than we have helped them.”

“I am thankful to Bill Bruno who is the assistant director of the NJSIAA,” Clifton added. “He is the one who nominated me for the NJ Award and sent it off to the National Committee.”