For Clarence Cropps, history was 31 years in the making.
The long-time youth and high school track and field coach finally reached the pinnacle of his profession on May 20, 2016, when he guided the Mount Airy High School boys’ track and field team to the program’s first-ever state championship in the sport. A journey that had begun as a volunteer assistant for a family member’s Junior Olympic team back in 1985 had taken him to the top of the mountain in coaching.
Or, at least that’s what he thought until last month, when the 1969 graduate of North Surry High School was named to the Greater Mount Airy Sports Hall of Fame. Cropps, who passed the baton of the MAHS boys’ team to James Simmons after winning the state title but remains the school’s head girls’ track coach and its cross-country coach, was one of three individual local sports figures named in the 2018 class of inductees.
“I knew I had been nominated, but I didn’t know I was going to get (in the Hall of Fame),” said Cropps. “It’s a special honor to be nominated, let alone selected. It’s one of the highlights of my life. It means a lot.”
Even without the championship on his resume, the Dobson native is a worthy selection. Cropps has coached and mentored children for more than three decades. His coaching career began when he served as head distance coach for the Meter Master Tack Club from 1985 to 1995.
“Basically, what happened is that my cousin started a Junior Olympic track team here back in the 1980’s and he asked me to help him coach. I did it about 10 years,” Cropps said.
Toward the end of his time with Meter Master, he began volunteering as a coach with the high school team in both track and field and cross country, and later became an official assistant coach. In 2012, he became head track and field coach when former head coach Chris Johnson left for Forbush to become the Falcons’ head football coach. Cropps also became head coach of the cross-country team in 2015.
In 2016, the Granite Bears were one of the top 1A teams in the state, but were hardly the favorites going into the state championship at Irwin Belk Track in Greensboro, where league rival North Stokes was the defending champion. The meet came down to the final event of the day, the 4×400 relay, and the Bears had to both finish in the top eight and beat North Stokes to win the state title. Mount Airy’s anchor-leg runner overtook the Vikings in the homestretch, and the Bears won the title by 1.5 points.
“The guys worked really hard to win it that season,” Cropps said. “At the beginning of the year, we didn’t have any idea it would end up that way. Any time you do something for the first time in history, it’s really special.”
The team he built went on to repeat as state champions for Simmons in 2017, with Cropps as an assistant coach, and the Bears will be one of the favorites for a three-peat next month.
Cropps is still an avid runner, often seen running on the roads around Mount Airy.
He’ll run into the Hall of Fame on Sunday, April 22 at 3 p.m. at the Andy Griffith Playhouse.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.