One last ride: Central baseball coach Leo McClure finishing coaching career at end of the season, but his impact on community, school is immeasurable

by William Weathers // Contributor

During the course of his first season as athletic director/football coach at Central High School, David Simoneaux Jr. sought the advice of people to point him in the right direction to gather support for the program.

Whether it was monetary in nature or simply supplies, Simoneaux routinely found himself turning toward the school’s baseball coach Leo McClure.

That’s because McClure was dyed-in-the-wool maroon and gray, a 1973 graduate of Central High where all three sons – Tanna, Trey and Todd – had graduated and enjoyed standout athletic careers for the Wildcats.

“The McClures are synonymous with athletic excellence at Central,” Simoneaux said. “You could call them one of the royal families.”

Leo McClure had also spent time at the school as athletic director/football coach, head basketball coach and finally baseball, where he informed his team last week that the 2024 season – his fifth – would be his last.

“There’s been a million conversations that I’ve had with him and asked who to call if you were going to try this, or try to make this happen, and he’ll tell you call such and such,” Simoneaux said. “He’s been a tremendous resource and I hate to see him go because I’ve learned so much from him and enjoyed working with him.”

Central finished the regular season Monday with a 7-0 loss to Catholic High in a game that helped determine the District 4-5A championship.

The Wildcats (22-8) will take a No. 10 into the Division I non-select state playoffs against league foe Zachary at 6 p.m. Friday in the best-of-three bi-district series.

“I knew last May,” McClure said of the 2024 season being his last. “My wife and I talked about it. That in conjunction with other things that I have, my age (68), we decided this will be my last giddy-up.”

In typical McClure low-key fashion, he announced his intentions to his team before Central’s doubleheader sweep of Liberty in 4-5A play.

“I didn’t want this to be about me, and that it would be about us and finishing the season in the playoffs,” he said.

Central has bordered on a top 10 team in the Division I power ratings for most of the season.

The Wildcats feature a strong pitching staff led Southern Mississippi signee Grayden Harris and fellow pitcher/center fielder Jacob Leblanc, a Northwestern State signee.

“It’s played out about the way I thought it would,” McClure said. “We have pretty good pitching and we’re pretty good on defense. We’re like a lot of people where we’ve got to find ways to get hits and score runs.”

Whenever Central plays its final game – the Wildcats have advanced to the state quarterfinals the past three seasons – it will end an association between McClure and sports that’s been a 47-year love affair.

McClure, who’s lived in Atlanta, Georgia the past 17-18 years and maintained a residence in Central, plans to dedicate more of his time to his private company that constructs concession stands at ballparks in the south.

“That’s what I’ll do 19-20 weekends a year,” McClure said. “I’ll be around with what’s going on at Central High School. I’m a Central High graduate and my sons live here. I’m Central through and through.”

McClure’s a former three-sport standout at Central (football, basketball and baseball) and played basketball at Southeastern Louisiana before getting into coaching at the age of 21.

He remains second on SLU’s career assists record with 433, second in single-season assists with 188 and his 15 assists against Tennessee-Martin remains No. 2 on the school’s single-game list.

McClure was the head basketball coach at Central from 1977-84 before getting into college coaching at his alma mater SLU, joining the staff as an assistant coach three years before being elevated to head coach from ’87-’89.

He entered the private business from ’89-’91 and then returned to Central where he was the athletic director/football coach in ’91-’92, bringing with him a sense of pride that’s been echoed under Simoneaux in his first season in 2023.

“He had a theme here called ‘Restore the Pride’,” Simoneaux said. “He likens that to our ‘Close the Gates’ theme. For him to endorse the things I’m doing on a daily basis, we’re working together, trying to move this thing forward.”

McClure was also a visionary, ahead of today’s travel ball craze 20 years ago. He created the Louisiana Tigers’ 13-14-year-old team, a program that morphed into nearly 10 teams and McClure was credited with sending more than 150 players to college and more than 40 to the professional ranks.

For his efforts, McClure was a 2013 inductee in the Louisiana USSSA Hall of Fame.

Five years ago, when Central was in the market for a baseball coach, they called McClure to gauge his interest.

He said yes, and the rest has been history.

Central embarks on a playoff journey they hope will result in another trip to the state tournament where the Wildcats last claimed back-to-back Class 5A state championships in 2019 and ’18.

“I just wanted to move on to the next phase of my life,” McClure said. “I’ve been coaching since I was 21 one way or another. That’s a long time to be involved in sports or coaching. I wanted to do some other things with the rest of my life.”