Hunter Academy of Sport chief executive Ken Clifford retires after 27 years

KEN Clifford admits he has not done a hard day’s work in the past 27 years.

‘‘I’ve always said it’s like a hobby, it’s not a real job,’’ Mr Clifford, 72,  said yesterday after announcing he would be retiring at the end of the month as the Hunter Academy of Sport inaugural chief executive.

When then NSW sports minister Michael Cleary decided to create regional sports academies in the late 1980s, Mr Clifford was a teacher and sports organiser at Wallsend High School.

Once he learned an academy would be based in Newcastle, he ‘‘pushed and shoved a bit’’ to get to the front of the queue, never realising it would become his life for more than a quarter of a century. 

‘‘I probably thought I’d be retired long before this,’’ Mr Clifford said with a laugh.

‘‘But with a job like this, you just do your best ... I never, ever thought I’d be doing it for this long.’’

Mr Clifford was well qualified for the role. 

He had played sport, breaking into Newcastle first-grade cricket at the age of 14. He had refereed it, as an international basketball whistle-blower.

 And he had administered it, as chairman of Newcastle District Cricket Association, president of Newcastle basketball and a Newcastle Falcons board member.

But providing a pathway for tens of thousands of youngsters to reach for their dreams has provided his greatest sporting joy.

Many of them have progressed to enjoy professional careers in their chosen codes or represented Australia at events such as world titles and the Olympics.

‘‘We’ve provided an avenue for many of the talented young sportspeople in the region to take the next step up the ladder,’’ he said.

‘‘It is nice to see them do well and think we contributed a little bit towards that.

‘‘With our programs, it’s not just about skills session, we do a lot of education work with regards to nutrition, injury prevention, sports psychology, all of those areas.

‘‘So hopefully we’re not only developing sporting skills, we’re developing young people as well.’’

His only frustration was that he would like to have done more.

  ‘‘I’d like to see more professional programs run with better funding, so there are less costs involved for the kids and their families.’’

Asked if he was looking forward to retirement, he replied: ‘‘In many ways yes, in other ways no. 

‘‘I’d probably decided a couple of years ago that this would be about when I gave it away, and I’ve spoken to financial advisers and I suppose the fact I am getting on a bit, it all contributed.

‘‘But I’ve enjoyed it.’’

Mr Clifford said a trip to England next year with his wife Laraine was among his post-retirement plans.

Hunter Academy of Sport chairman  Ted Atchison praised Mr Clifford’s ‘‘mighty achievement to have given so much over such a long period of time’’. A search for Mr Clifford’s replacement would start immediately.

By Matt Carr

CHIEF executive Ken Clifford will retire from the Hunter Academy of Sport at the end of the month.

Mr Clifford, who has served the organisation since it began in 1988, will leave on October 31 

Among his proudest achievements are establishing the annual Festival of Sport, establishing scholarships for potential Olympians and a program to award outstanding achievers in the region's schools.

After 27 years Mr Clifford said it was time for new blood in the organisation's leadership.

"It’s definitely time for someone younger to step in and take the Academy into the future," he said.

“It’s going to be hard not coming into the office every day, but I plan to busy myself with all the jobs I haven’t had a chance to get to over the years."

"It will also be good to spend some quality time with my family."

Academy chairman Ted Atchison praised Mr Clifford's singular work in Hunter sport. 

“It’s a mighty achievement to have given so much over such a long period of time," he said.

"Ken has made a significant impact on the development of sporting talent in this region and should be very proud of what he has achieved,” said Mr Atchison. 

Mr Atchison said the board would likely enlist a specialist recruiter to find Mr Clifford's successor.