Cloninger to retire at year’s end
By RYAN HERMAN
An athletic department was recently described to Lincolnton High physical education teacher, head football coach, boys golf coach and Athletic Director Scott Cloninger as its school’s front porch.
He’ll soon sweep it off one last time.
Cloninger, who has overseen the Wolves athletic program and been its head football coach since 2000, announced his retirement, effective Jan. 1, in an email to local media on Wednesday.
The coach whose football teams have 132 total wins, four conference championships, one state championship and three state title game appearances in a 14-year span cited family and the exhausting year-long demands of an athletic director and head football coach as reasons for deciding Dec. 31 will be his last day as a full-time employee of Lincolnton High School.
“I’m an old-school coach. … I really need a secretary as athletic director and a coach. They just don’t let you do it the way it used to be,” Cloninger said. “It’s just time to move on and let someone else (take over).”
“I love coaching football and teaching,” Cloninger added. “I’m just glad Lincoln County Schools didn’t know those first couple years that I was coaching that I would have coached for free, because that’s how much I enjoyed it. But it’s time. It’s time to move on, and enjoy my children and family.”
Since taking over the football program and becoming the school’s athletic director in 2000, the Wolves have compiled a 132-63 record, 28-13 in the state playoffs.
They have had 11 winning seasons under Cloninger –– seven in a row –– and his 132 victories are second in Lincolnton High and Lincoln County football history to Von Ray Harris, who had 187 wins from 1959-86.
Cloninger’s .677 win percentage is also its highest in the modern high school football era.
“I have been living a dream,” he said.
But it’s time that dream draws to a close.
Cloninger was at a recent Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas combine where he ran into some coaching friends from Havelock High, the three-time defending NCHSAA state 3A champion. It was during their conversation that one of the Rams’ coaches told Cloninger of the sterling reputation that proceeded Lincolnton’s athletics and football program statewide, and likened a school’s athletics program to the doorway of a lovely home.
“They said, ‘We know Lincolnton. Lincolnton High School is a great program and you win ballgames and you do it the right way,’” Cloninger said. “Athletics is like the front porch of your house, of your home, and I think that’s the one good thing about Lincolnton High School athletics and football –– the City of Lincolnton is well-known throughout the athletic community because of the athletics at Lincolnton High School. That’s one of the things that we’re proud of.
“Athletics are like a front porch. It’s the first thing you see.”
Another factor in Cloninger’s decision to make 2015 his last season at the Wolves’ helm was his two children, 10-year-old Kalee and 7-year-old Karson.
Perhaps they’ll get to enjoy a late summer or early fall trip to the beach with their father for the first time.
“People tell me the beach is nice in September,” Cloninger said. “I’ve never been able to go to the beach in September, and things like that.
“The time is just right,” he added. “There’s no one big reason. I would like to do some things that I haven’t been able to do, and now’s as good a time as any.”
A 1975 graduate of Lincolnton, Cloninger returned home to teach and coach after graduating from Western Carolina University. He immediately got a job as an assistant football coach under Harris in 1979, and served in that capacity until taking over for former head coach Richard Smith in 2000.
Cloninger’s teams have reached the state playoffs all 14 seasons he’s been at the helm –– the longest such stretch in school history. The Wolves won a 2A state title under Cloninger in 2007, and finished as the 2A state runners-up in 2007 and 2011.
During his career, now entering its 36th year, Cloninger has been a part of two state title teams –– the 1993 team won the school’s first championship while he was an assistant –– and four state runner-ups, including 1994.
Even though he’s already done it all, the 2014 season won’t be a walk-in-the-park retirement parade.
Cloninger plans on pushing this year’s team as hard as he has in his previous 14 years.
“We’re going to do everything possible to win as many games as we can and to be as successful as we can,” he said. “Our goal at Lincolnton hasn’t changed and will never change. We want to make it to the state championship. That’s a tall task for anybody, but that’s what you set your goals at, and we set them high.”
Cloninger’s successor, who would be just the fourth head football coach at Lincolnton since Harris took over in 1959, has not yet been named, he said. He said he hopes a new coach and athletic director will be named before his retirement becomes official.