GAC's Shelton now Gwinnett's all-time wins leader

GAC's Cliff Shelton

GAC's Cliff Shelton

Greater Atlanta Christian's extra-inning win over Roswell last Thursday was a big one for the Spartans, and not just for the prestige of having toppled a traditional large-school powerhouse.

It also provided head coach Cliff Shelton with a milestone.

It was the 547th in the coaching veteran's career, making him Gwinnett County's all-time leader in wins, passing former Parkview skipper and Georgia Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Fame member Hugh Buchanan's total of 546.

"It just means I've been around a long time," said Shelton, who is in his 31st season as the Spartans head coach. "When I think of some great coaches in the county during that time, like Buck (Buchanan), (South Gwinnett's) John Sawyer, (Shiloh's) Glenn George or (Berkmar's) Al Thees -- I don't think of myself at their level. I've just been coaching a long time."

Perhaps, but in that lengthy career that dates back to the spring of 1983, GAC has had plenty of success.

Under Shelton's guidance, the Spartans have averaged around 18 wins per season, won 13 region championships and advanced to the semifinals of the state playoffs seven times, including four state runner-up finishes.

And despite having a state title elude his team in those four state finals appearances, Shelton says he has found his career at GAC to be extremely rewarding.

"Yeah, I've been (to the championship round) four times and can't seem to quite get over the hump," Shelton joked. "Baseball is a weird game and hard to predict. ... But I don't think of the games so much as my former players. To me, that's the great part of coaching -- not the wins and losses.

"Now, I'm teaching second-generation kids (in the GAC program). That's the cool part about coaching. I remember a lot of faces."

Dozens of those faces belong to players who have gone on to play baseball in college or even the professional ranks, including current Miami Marlins prospect Drew Steckenrider.

But Shelton says he has enjoyed coaching all the players who have come though his program, just like he's enjoyed coaching at GAC.

"I've been very fortunate to have been at a school that has been very patient with me," Shelton said. "I can't imagine being anywhere else."

And he says the school isn't the only entity to have been patient with him over the years.

Shelton credits his wife, former GAC softball coach and current Spartans volleyball coach Kristy Shelton, and children for being understanding in dealing with the long hours he put in at the field.

"With my wife, we've kind of had the same mentality with athletics," Shelton said. "My son ran cross country and track (at GAC). I got to witness him win a state championship in cross country, but I never got to see him run track because it was during the spring while baseball was going on. That's one of the things I missed out on. My daughter played volleyball at GAC, so I got to see her play, which was a really good experience.

"I've just been very blessed to have a family involved in athletics."

Shelton is hoping to get the most out of his 31st season, with the Spartans off to a 4-3 start to 2013 heading into Tuesday's home game with North Oconee.

And while he's put in many years in the program, he doesn't see himself slowing down anytime soon.

"I'm 56 years old," Shelton said, "and I think I've still got a ways to go yet."