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Getting to Know ... Ron Clanton

Ron Clanton, 58, is in his sixth year as boys cross country and track and field coach at Peachtree Ridge High School. He led the Lions' boys cross country team to their first state title in the fall.

The Troy State University grad went to Robert E. Lee High School in Jacksonville, Fla., where his P.E. coach was Leonard Skynard and was classmates with Ronnie Van Zandt and other members of the Southern rock band, Lynard Skynard.

Prior to coming to Peachtree Ridge, Clanton coached 22 years at Westover in Albany. His boys and girls cross country teams combined to win 26 region titles and the boys team was state runner-up twice. In track, his teams won 12 region titles and two state titles.

In the is latest installment of "Getting to know ...," sports writer Brandon Brigman talks to Clanton about his summer job at Disney World, his move from Albany to Gwinnett and his pole vaulting days.

BB: Peachtree Ridge girls track coach Tomy Sitton says he's Club Med and you're Alcatraz. What does he mean by that?

RC: We kind offset each other personality wise I guess. And somehow it fits.

BB: What did you do before you got into coaching?

RC: When I got out of college I got into the art business. I did work at Disney World, I was a character.

BB: What character were you at Disney World?

RC: I was one of the three monkeys in the Jungle Book. It was fun. It was a good experience to learn a lot about people. They asked me when I graduated college if I wanted to continue to work for them, but I decided that wasn't my cup of tea.

BB: Looking back on it, are you glad you made the change and got into coaching?

RC: I love it. I've coached track and field for over 30 years. I coached football for about 15 years, I was girls basketball coach for six years. I was swimming coach for about 15 years. I love it.

BB: You spent 22 successful years at Westover, so why the change?

RC: I have relatives up here, I have family here in the Suwanee area. You are at a place in your life where you have more or less accomplished everything you can. It was just a time in my life to move on and this provided an opportunity here at Peachtree Ridge. It's been a good change, I've really enjoyed it.

BB: What's the biggest difference between Gwinnett County and Albany?

RC: (laughs) Well, it's like night and day. The community here is very diverse, which you don't see that much down in South Georgia. The extracurricular activities in Gwinnett County are so huge. The numbers wise, it's just a big challenge. There's more participation in sports across the board here. South Georgia you have to share athletes. I was at a AAA school and you have to learn how to share athletes and share time.

BB: We just had the all-county track meet. If we did a coaches all-county meet, every coach did every event, who would win?

RC: Probably the girls cross country coach at Mill Creek. Tom Kutter. Since he qualified for the Olympic Trials in Boston. I'd say Kutter is in pretty good shape. I'm definitely not.

BB: What kind of athlete were you in high school and college?

RC: I was a pole vaulter in high school and hated running. Every time the coach tried to get me to run I'd hide behind the pole vault pit. When I got to college, for the first time I was introduced to other events and I ended up being a decathlete. In 1972, I think, I made it to nationals and finished 11th. I competed against Bruce Jenner.

BB: Really, how did you do?

RC: I saw his (butt) a lot. (laughs) He was a great athlete. I think the experience in college with the decathlon I gained a lot of knowledge with the different events. I think from that experience I'm able to help teach that to the kids I coach.

BB: Is just me, or is pole vault the craziest event?

RC: You got to be crazy, OK. I started pole vaulting in my neighborhood. We would get on our bikes and go look for a bamboo patch. We would cut down bamboo. I pole vaulted nine feet in my backyard over the clothes line as a kid. I was crazy.

BB: Everyone seemed pretty shocked after Peachtree Ridge won the boys cross country state title. How long did it take to sink in what happened that day?

RC: It took a few minutes. Here at The Ridge we've really worked hard in the cross country program and have not been blessed with a lot of just natural talent. The kids have had to work extra hard. Not only in mileage, but in the weight room to really overachieve to get where they are competitive. It's been a long period of development. Finally I got a group of seniors this year that have been in the program for four years and worked real hard and they felt they could be competitive. One of our goals was to try and win a state championship. The ironic thing is we didn't win a meet all season.

BB: What are some of your hobbies?

RC: I grew up down there in Jacksonville along the beach surfing and now I'm too old to do that. I do have a kayak and I live near Lake Lanier and I do a lot of kyaking.

BB: What TV show(s) do you have to watch every week?

RC: I like "Seinfeld." I always thought that was a pretty funny sitcom. Really, I don't have enough time. When I get home I go to sleep. But I'm a "Seinfeld" fan. I love "Saturday Night Live," I love comedy.

BB: Any spring break plans?

RC: My spring break I'll be right here on the track. Spring break is in the middle of the season. We come back and region is a week later. I'll be right here. This is where I always spend spring break. Now I do go to Hawaii every year. As soon as school gets out I'm gone. I stay out there about 12 days.

BB: How long do you see yourself at Peachtree Ridge?

RC: Well, this is my 30th year in Georgia. I was looking forward to coming back next year half day and continuing to coach, but with the way things are (with the economy) I'll be here for awhile now. The kids keep me young, who knows? I like the school, I like the coaches I work with, I love the kids. So I'll be here for awhile.