By Kyle Boaz
There’s a new leader of the flock.
James “Tony” Francis will be filling the vacancy in the Clopton High School softball and basketball programs when Craig Smith left the district to go to Bowling Green.
“My initial goal is to immerse myself into the Clopton culture, working alongside a great faculty and staff, providing the best possible educational experience for all students in the Pike Co. R-III School District,” Francis said.
“I am thankful to the Board of Education for giving my family and I the opportunity to serve in a community of great people, who place their students as the number one priority. Mr. Mark Harvey, Mr. Larry Lagemann and Mrs. Linda Henderson are great leaders and I am ready to work as hard as I can to uphold their mission and vision.”
Francis was the head coach of Women’s Basketball at Lindenwood University from 2010-18 and helped the team transition from NAIA to NCAA Division II status by joining the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association (MIAA) conference. The team won the conference championship in 2018 by defeating both the #3 and #1 teams.
He also was an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at St. Louis University for nine years before joining Lindenwood.
Francis will be getting a late jump into off-season training with the late transition.
“I met both the softball and basketball teams last Thursday evening, June 28, out at the high school. We have scheduled team camps for both sports, starting Monday, July 16,” he said.
“This transition has happened relatively late, so I will not get a lot of time to work with either team through the remainder of the summer. I also feel it is important they enjoy their family vacations that have already been scheduled. However, after meeting both teams and having the chance to interact with a few players, it will not take long for our relationships to develop. The student-athletes I have already met are hungry, focused, and understand the tradition that are their respective sports.
Francis is somewhat familiar with the Pike County area when he was the head girl’s basketball coach at Silex from 1994-2002 and won a state championship in 2001.
“My wife and I have been in discussions concerning our next step professionally that would provide a more desirable lifestyle for our family,” he said.
“Over the course of the last three months, we were entertaining different offers that we felt would better position us toward the lifestyle we were looking for. Upon receiving an unexpected phone call concerning the Clopton position, it became very clear to us this would be the fit we were looking for. I know the history and tradition of Clopton High School, my wife and I are fond of the physical beauty of the area, and it gets us back closer to family.”
With all of his past success, Francis put an emphasis on culture as the driving force.
We will pursue Excellence, by giving our best effort in all endeavors on a daily basis. We understand there are no shortcuts to Excellence. Within our program, all members will commit to fighting for the vision and mission of our culture,” Francis said.
“I have six tenets that are the foundation of our culture that will remain inside team. To be a successful coach, you must have talent. However, talent only takes you so far. To get to that elite level, the talent must have the “It” factor and the program must have the right culture. All members of the program will be aggressive in fighting for our culture. As far as on field/court coaching style, that remains to be seen. I have to spend time evaluating and developing relationships so I can best match each team’s personality and skill set to a particular style of play.”
He will also be teaching elementary PE in the district.
“As an educator, I have the responsibility to give every effort to be a leader, a mentor, and a role-model in an effort to provide the best possible educational experience to all students. As a coach, I want to continue and build upon the traditions that the players and coaches before have established,” Francis said.