Clarence Cropps had entertained the thought for a year or two. Eventually, he just got a feeling it was time to move on.
The longtime track and field and cross country coach, who guided Mount Airy to claim two straight NCHSAA Class 1-A titles, said Friday afternoon he plans to retire. Cropps, after finding a passion for running more than four decades ago and frequenting the high school's track during those early years, said he plans to relax and enjoy life. The 68-year-old's next move, following the coronavirus pandemic, includes traveling — and maybe a little bowling practice.
"Man, there's so many of them," Cropps said about the memories made. "It's been a unique experience. … When you're around kids, you watch them grow each year — how they change and stuff, how they improve. That's, more of less, kept me motivated to keep doing stuff."
Cropps, a 1969 graduate of North Surry, began his coaching career roughly 35 years ago. That occurred after his cousin, Ron Snow, started Meter Masters Track Club in Mount Airy. Cropps remembers a conversation with Snow, asking for help with the program that included kids ages 5 through 18.
He remained with the club spanning 1985 to 1995. Cropps even volunteered with the Granite Bears' track and field program while his son, Jerrard, a 1992 graduate of Mount Airy, competed on the team.
That transitioned into becoming an assistant, before taking the helm of the track and field team in 2012 following Chris Johnson's departure to Forbush. Cropps, who was eventually inducted to the Greater Mount Airy Sports Hall of Fame in 2018, led the boys team to claim the Class 1-A title in 2016 — its first in program history. The Granite Bears won a team championship the following season as well.
For Cropps, whose daughter Keista also ran track and cross country at Mount Airy prior to graduating in 2000, a love for coaching simply blossomed from a longtime passion.
"It was nothing I planned," said Cropps, who was named the cross country coach in 2015 as well. "Over the years, when I was running on the roads, I met several people and meet up with them and start talking.
"Since I'd been running long, I'd start giving them some hints on how to run — their form and stuff like that."
Angela Mayfield, the athletics director at Mount Airy, said just scanning through the comments on the high school's Twitter account announcing Cropps' retirement Friday was moving.
"What stands out the most, to me, about him is the man that he is," Mayfield said. "And just his character. And how much he loved the kids. … It goes so far beyond what goes on on the cross country course or the track.
"It's just the mentoring, the character building — just a true gentleman."
Running opened a door for Cropps. And he hasn't stopped, either. Cropps said he runs five miles about four days per week.
"If I had (the chance) to do it again, I'd do it again," said Cropps, looking back on his career. "Everything's been good. Over the years, I've gotten to go different places. I've met at lot of different people. I've got people all over the United State that I've met.
"We converse every now and then. But it's unique — something that I love, and still love it."