Justin Clifford Is 2014 OVAC Coach of Year

WHEELING – Father knows best.

Before former Harrison Central baseball coach Justin Clifford attended the 29th Annual OVAC Banquet of Champions held at WesBanco Arena, the Coach of the Year candidate took some advice from his dad.

Write a speech.

Nearly two hours after the ceremonies began, Clifford was glad he did.

”I had no clue (I would win),” Clifford said after he as he was announced the 2014 News-Register/Bill Van Horne OVAC Coach of the Year.

He was sure to thank his father, Kim, the veteran St. Clairsville boys’ basketball coach, for the words of wisdom during his seven-minute acceptance speech.

Clifford, in his second and final season at the helm, guided Harrison Central to their first district title as well as an appearance in the Ohio Division II state semifinals. The Huskies posted a 23-8 record last spring and also won the OVAC Class 4A title.

Clifford beat out Madonna football coach Doug Taylor, Wheeling Central boys’ basketball coach Mel Stephens, Wheeling Park golf coach Don Headley, and the late Cambridge tennis coach, Michael Denniston, to lay claim to the award.

”It’s just an honor to be in the same breath as those guys,” Clifford said. ”Those guys have done it a long time. I’m fortunate.”

Harrison Central defeated Vincent Warren in the regional semifinal and rallied past Waverly – winning on a balk – before falling to state runner-up Plain City Jonathan Alder in the state semifinal.

”It’s been an unbelievable year,” Clifford said. ”I had a baby – well, I didn’t, my wife did.

”Just the run, it’s something you’ll never forget. For those who have experienced a state title or tournament run, words can’t describe that feeling. Until you’re there and you experience it, words can’t describe it.”

Following the end of Harrison Central’s season, Clifford, also the Huskies boys’ basketball coach, accepted a job as dean of students at the high school.

Thinking he had too much on his plate, the Harrison Hills School district made him choose one sport to coach.

He picked basketball.

”It’s all been for the good,” Clifford said. ”Harrison has given me so many steps and has been so great to me. I have nothing but great things to say about them.”

During the Huskies’ historic run, Clifford says he never really stopped to think about the big picture.

”You’re just worried about throwing a strike and winning that inning,” he said. ”You’re not thinking about playing in Huntington Park or anything like that, you’re worried about, ‘Is the bus going to get there on time?’

”I told the kids this when we were there because I had the chance to play – well, be on the team I should say – and won. You don’t realize it when you’re there. You really don’t. You take it for granted. Ten years down the road, they’ll remember it. When it happens you don’t think about it much.

”It was an unbelievable run.”

The Coach of the Year award was just one of several honors given out at the banquet celebrating the nation’s largest high school athletic conference.

More than $30,000 in scholarships were awarded to nearly 40 graduating seniors. In addition, the OVAC overall winners for each class were announced.

Madonna won the Class 1A title for a fifth straight time, Wheeling Central took the 2A crown for back-to-back years, Linsly earned its fourth straight 3A championship and St. Clairsville captured Class 4A for a record sixth consecutive time. Wheeling Park edged out Morgantown by a single point to earn its fifth Class 5A title.