Guthrie HOF coach Clay Tarter passes away

Clay Tarter, a legendary high school track and field coach in Oklahoma, passed away on Sunday evening.

Tarter died unexpectedly from a medical event at the age of 68.

Tarter, who was instrumental in starting the cross-country program at Guthrie, coached nine state championship teams (most of any head coach) and had four athletes finish state champions in over 40 years of coaching the Jays.

In addition, Tarter was a part of three Academic State Championship teams with the Jays.

“The Bluejays lost a great one tonight. Along with many, I’m in complete shock,” Guthrie Superintendent Dr. Mike Simpson said.  

“Clay and I had become good friends through the time we spent together in Lions Club.  He was always downplaying his personal accomplishments while touting the achievements of our student-athletes.  In his 44 years of coaching, he never quit serving students.  Multiple times, he even found his way back into the classroom after his ‘official’ retirement following the 2009 school year while remaining a fixture at the track.”

In 2012, Tarter was named the recipient of the National Federation of State High School Associations Coach of the Year and Sectional Award honor.

Inducted into the Guthrie High School Hall of Fame in 1994, Tarter was the 2010 Oklahoma Coaches Association Cross Country Coach of the Year for helping lead the boys cross country 2010 team to an undefeated season and repeated the next season.

Following his induction, he continued to put together his Hall of Fame resume as he was named the National High School Coaches Association’s Regional Cross Country Coach of the Year in 2008. All of his stellar accomplishments earned him a spot in the Oklahoma Track Coaches Hall of Fame in 2010.

In 2010, Tarter was a finalist for the National Coach of the Year in Boys Cross Country. He was one of 10 finalists and was honored in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

In 2016, he was named the men’s and women’s head coach for Northwestern Oklahoma State University.

In the classroom, Tarter was named the Guthrie High School Teacher of the Year three times, including in 1983, 2005 and 2007.

“One of his greatest sources of pride was coaching so many children of parents he also coached when they were in high school,” Simpson said. “The number of lives he impacted in a positive way in this community and beyond are endless. Tonight, I hurt and pray for Cheryl, the rest of the family and our student-athletes who also grieve his passing. Tomorrow morning, I’m sure there will be a new coach leading runners along the streets of gold!”

Tarter earned his Bachelor’s degree in Education from Central Oklahoma in 1976 and started working at GHS in 1977 where he taught U.S. History, and coached Football as well as Track and Cross Country.

He is survived by his wife Cheryl and daughter Linh Maria.


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