Imagine a childhood as one of 16 siblings, including eight brothers, five who had a thirst for running. And, more often than not, Ron Clawson would be right in the thick of it all.
This was back in the 1960s in Meadville.
“With all these family participants, we would host track meets in our backyard, including neighborhood children,” Clawson said.
Perhaps it’s no wonder that he went on to coach cross country as well as track and field for a living at Warrensburg High School, and emerged as one of the state’s best. That’s why the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame proudly inducted Clawson with the Class of 2021.
A Purple Heart recipient from two years in the Vietnam War, he worked 32 years for Warrensburg’s school district, leading the cross country programs from 1972-1995 and the track & field teams from 1970-1998. His cross country teams combined for 20 top four finishes, with eight state championships.
Of the boys cross country program’s 20 top four finishes, Clawson guided the first 14. That included five state championship, which cover 1984, 1985, 1986, 1991 and 1995. They were a state runner-up six times (1980, 1981, 1982, 1987, 1989, 1990).
The girls had six of their top 11 finishes during his tenure. They won state three times (1986, 1988, 1989) and were a state runner-up in 1985 and 1987.
In track and field? Well, put it this way, the school district saw to it to rename its facility Ron Clawson Stadium and its annual spring track showcase the Ron Clawson Relays. That was part of a track career in which his teams won the same number of conference and district championships (25).
Mainly, Clawson carried out the lessons he learned during his days at Meadville High School and Truman State University. He was a pole vaulter and threw the javelin in high school, and was a letterman in college.
“I knew in high school track I was going to be a track coach,” Clawson said. “Due to my positive experiences in track and field starting in high school and later college, I was hooked. It definitely motivated me to want to coach this sport.”
Among his mentors was Truman State coach Ken Gardner.
“He was an elite coach in college track and highly successful in the MIAA and national meets,” Clawson said. “Mr. Gardner coached several Olympic athletes and too many All-Americans to remember. I actually copied a lot of his motivational tactics and many of his personality traits.”
Several of Clawson’s brothers made their marks in the sport, too. Roy was a high school track coach. Jerry ran cross country for the University of Kansas. Dick was an All-State hurdler, pole vaulter, and high jumper in high school. Donnie was an All-State pole vaulter in high school.
Clawson’s teams were an image of himself.
“My strategy usually involved trying to out-work our competition,” Clawson said. “I got our runners to buy into logging miles during the offseason.”
For folks who assume race days are just teams lining up to run, it’s anything but that. And Clawson always had a strategy.
“As far as racing tactics, we let our runners judge a pace and try to finish strong. We usually stayed in the middle of the pack for the first mile and then picked up the pace for the remainder of the race,” Clawson said. “I liked seeing our runners pass other runners going up hills. We usually did a lot of hill work in preparation for the state meet. “
Having been a high school athlete, however, Clawson knew that coaching required more than developing strategies. Team chemistry is big in any sport, including cross county, which is perceived to be an individual sport.
“As far as what buttons to push, I tried to develop team unity and get participants to want to run for each other,” Clawson said.
Looking back, Clawson offers thanks to numerous folks, especially his wife, Julie, “who understood the need for time away from home while I was coaching and later as athletic director.” They are parents to Rod and Matt.
Clawson was a physical education instructor for 19 years and spent 10 years in administration.
“I feel very fortunate to have worked in the same school district for 32 years,” Clawson said. “I played a small part in the lives of children in my community. I wish there was a way that I could personally thank all the people that enabled me to have a successful career.”