Clint McElrath brings stability to a transitional period in Owen athletics

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With coaching vacancies on the girls and boys basketball teams, Owen High School needed a candidate who could provide stability.

Experience, familiarity with student-athletes and an understanding of the school and community would all be important traits. A championship coaching pedigree with the school would be a bonus.

Turns out he was teaching history and coaching at Owen already.

"I'm very excited," Clint McElrath said after accepting the position as the head coach of the Warhorse basketball team. "My dad was once the boys basketball coach here."

McElrath’s name is well known in the Swannanoa Valley because he grew up here and graduated from Owen. Some 17 years ago as head boys basketball coach, his father, Dean McElrath, led the Warhorse basketball team to the fourth round of the state playoffs and coached the Warlassies softball team to back-to-back state championships in 1999 and 2000. Jenny Johnson, Clint McElrath's sister and the current head coach of the softball team, guided the Warlassies to the third round in the 2016 state playoffs.

Clint, who teaches American history II, world history and advanced placement world history at Owen, also brings plenty of his own coaching experience to his new position.

He's coached the junior varsity Warhorse football team for the past two seasons, as well as the varsity track and field team. Prior to coming to Owen he taught and coached several sports, including basketball, at Pisgah High School for eight years. His credentials matched exactly what the school looks for in a coaching candidate, according to athletic director Anthony Lee.

"We don't hire coaches and put them in teaching spots. We hire teachers first and they can fill coaching spots if or when they open up," Lee said. "When Clint McElrath was hired a couple of years ago, we knew he had a background in coaching basketball. When the position came available we asked ourselves if we had anyone on staff, of great quality and character, who could coach our basketball team."

The new coach's familiarity with the students at the school brings stability to the program.

"I worked with (Chuck) Robinson a little last season. I watched film for him and things like that," McElrath said. "Some of these kids on the team have already had a little glimpse at my style and how I approach things as a coach. And the school is so small (and) pretty much all of our athletes cross sports, the kids know me from track or football or class."

The Warhorses finished 23-6 last season but graduated six seniors, including Mathew Brown and Brian Bartlett, each 1,000-point career scorers. Ben Craig, who led the team in scoring as a junior and also scored 1,000 points in his career at Owen, transferred to Christ School. None of those developments have dampened the new coach's spirits.

"It's kind of been a dream of mine to be the head basketball coach at Owen like my dad was," McElrath said. "I've been so excited I'm getting up at 5 a.m. and thinking about what I want to do practice-wise and things like that."

The team held its first practice under its new coach on June 12.

"A lot of our kids are junior varsity players coming up to varsity, and some were already on varsity," Clint said. "But there's not a lot of experience coming back, so I'm working on assessing where we are with fundamentals and what we can do as a team."

Ian McVay, a former forward for Owen under Roger Schnepp on a team that won 17 games in 2006-07, will be back on the sidelines, part of Clint's staff. McVay was an assistant coach under Chuck Robinson last year and the head coach of the junior varsity team. He will continue to serve in those roles under the new head coach.

The Warhorse coaching staff will also include Matt Turner and Calvin Cross, both of who bring previous coaching experience to the team.

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