Bill Clifton, who has been on a remarkable run as one of NJ's best cross-country coaches over his 40-plus year career, received a huge honor on Monday when he was named the 2020 National Coach of the Year for girls cross-country by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Coaches Association.
This award recognize coaches for the 2019-20 school year.
Clifton, who has served as the Middletown South girls head XC Coach since 2002, led the Eagles to one of its greatest seasons ever in the Fall of 2019. Under Clifton's guidance, Middletown South won the Monmouth County title, the Shore Conference, Championship, the North 2 Group 3 title, the State Group 3 Championship, and a third-place at the Meet of Champions.
The Eagles finished 2019 as the No. 3 ranked team in the state and Clifton was named NJ MileSplit's Girls XC Coach of the Year.
Clifton followed up the magical 2019 campaign by leading Middletown South to its second straight county title and a final state ranking of No. 3 during the pandemic-shortened season this past fall.
Clifton said he's honored to be chosen as the National Coach of the Year.
"It is overwhelming to think of all the great programs across the US that NJ would get the honor,'' said Clifton. "I am so lucky to be coaching in this sport, to be able to try to be a positive force in a teenagers life, and be able give them guidelines and direction that they can use their entire lives.
Clifton said his wife, Kathleen, deserves to be recognized as well. Together, Bill and Kathleen have formed one of the best husband-wife coaching tandems in recent state history.
"This type of award cannot possibly go to one person,'' said the always humble Clifton. "My co-coach and wife, Kathleen, should really be the one getting this honor with her intuition and spirit. I also have to thank the entire team, parents, the supportive Shore Coaches Association, and all the coaches that I have rubbed elbows with over the years that have influenced me-some were from the top teams in the state, but most were teams that will never show in the Top 20. But those coaches give their programs everything they have with devotion, camaraderie, caring and love....with little or wanted recognition.
During his years at Middletown South, Clifton has steered the Eagles to 12 Divisional titles, three Monmouth County, two Shore Conference, seven State Sectional and two State Group Championships.
Prior to coming to his arrival at Middletown South, Clifton coached at Kearny High for 20 years, beginning in 1977. Clifton was inducted into the Kearny High School Athletic Hall of Fame in 2012 for his coaching success. Kathleen Clifton is also a member of the Kearny Hall of Fame. She was one of the best distance runners in Kearny history.
Clifton, whose passion and commitment to the sport is as strong now as it was when he started running for powerhouse Essex Catholic High as a freshman in the late 1960's, feels blessed to have the opportunity to help shape the lives of young student-athletes.
"We have had a good program for a while now, but I always say that I don't need a super talented team to coach,'' said Clifton, who ran at Jersey City College. "I just want athletes that want to learn how to get the most out of our fantastic sport and to realize it can be invigorating, life changing, purposeful and fun. I am a very lucky person to have had xc/track as part of my life since my freshman year at Essex Catholic!''