John Clayton, Hall of Fame high school basketball coach, remembered as ‘very humble’ but ‘very competitive’ – Commercial Appeal

Posted: June 26, 2020 at 9:46 am


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Legendary Memphis and Shelby County high school basketball coach John Clayton, right, died Wednesday evening. He was 86. Clayton is pictured with his son, Clay, at a reunion with many of his former players in 2008.(Photo: File photo/The Commercial Appeal)

Faced with the task of summing up his father, Clay Clayton took a deep breath.

I will do my very best, he said Thursday morning.

John Clayton, a native of Collierville and a Hall of Fame high school basketball coach in Memphis and Shelby County, died Wednesday night. He was 86.

Clayton, who was a two-year letterman in football and basketball at Northwest Mississippi Community College and a graduate of Memphis State University, began his coaching career at Bartlett in 1957. Clayton took over at Frayser in 1958 and led the team to six straight division titles, a regional championship in 1965 and the Memphis City Championship in 1967. As coach at Raleigh-Egypt from 1971-76, Claytons teams won three Best of the Preps awards.

Upon retiring from coaching, Claytons 378 wins were the eighth-most in Memphis-Shelby County history. His .711 winning percentage was 11th.

But Clay said his father headmaster at Rossville Christian Academy (1976-85), assistant principal at Germantown (1985-89) and principal at Houston (1989-97) leaves a legacy well beyond sports.

Oh, my goodness, if you go back to (1957-58) when he went to Bartlett and tried to do the math all the way up to '97 whats that? Forty years of impact to kids, from junior high kids up to high school kids, Clay said. Id be scared to try to even do the math of the number of young men and women he was able to influence.

Hopefully his winning percentage there was as good as it was on the basketball floor.

Clay said two of his fathers favorite things later in life became golf and the annual reunion lunch with many of his former players. The latter began in 2008, when more than 25 of Claytons former players surprised him.

Jeff Hopkins, who went on to be the baseball coach at Memphis and later Collierville, called me and said, Hey, lets see if we can surprise Coach, Clay said. He was so surprised. He got to see a lot of these guys he hadnt seen in a long time, and it was something he looked forward to every year.

I cant tell you how much he meant to his players, said Hopkins. Since Ive been talking to people, theres a number of them whove said its like losing a family member. Thats how close he was to all of us.

Golf was more of an acquired taste.

He was very humble, but he was very competitive, Clay said. I dont care if we were playing basketball on Friday night or shooting squirrels in the woods. He picked up golf later in his life, probably when he was about 58. I played in high school and he used to fuss at me and say thats the silliest thing in the world to beat that white ball around when theres so much work to be done. But he picked it up and became infatuated with it. He shot his age at 69 and had two hole-in-ones at Memphis National.

Clayton was a standout player at Collierville, where he helped lead the team to the Shelby County Championship in 1951. He is a member of the Northwest Mississippi Community College Hall of Fame, the Rossville Academy Hall of Fame and the Memphis Amateur Sports Hall of Fame.

In addition to Clay, Clayton is survived by his wife, Laverne.

Visitation is set for 1 p.m. Monday at Fisherville Baptist Church in Collierville. The funeral will begin at 3.

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John Clayton, Hall of Fame high school basketball coach, remembered as 'very humble' but 'very competitive' - Commercial Appeal

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June 26th, 2020 at 9:46 am

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