By Thomas Sellers Jr.
The first to practice and last to leave is not just a cliché with Hannah Clifton.
She’ll give you the shirt off her back is just not an old saying when it comes to the Millington Central High School senior. She puts others before herself was the common theme from those in attendance to celebrate Clifton’s signing of her letter of intent to play softball at Dyersburg State April 26.
The fourth generation Clifton athlete paved her way toward a college scholarship with hard work, an understanding of legacy and a team-first approach.
“She works hard in anything she does in life,” Millington Head Softball Coach Whitney Horton said. “She’s got that work mentality. She’s going to find any way possible to make it happen. I always preach to my kids you are a student before you’re an athlete.
“She’s a huge prime example of what a student/athlete is supposed to be,” she continued. “I think she’s represented Millington well. She’s going to go on and still bleed those black and gold colors. She’s just someone us as teachers, coaches, administrators should be proud of in this community. I am proud to have a kid like that go on to represent Millington.”
Hannah will represent Millington, MCHS, Lady Trojan Softball, Lady Trojan Volleyball, Class of 2019 and the Clifton name.
It was volleyball that drew the comparison to her father Tommy Clifton Jr. Back in the early 1990s, Tommy was a full back on the first undefeated Trojan Football team in school history.
Fast forward to 2017, Hannah was the setter on the first-ever Region champion Lady Trojan Volleyball team.
“It just feels fantastic to do something nobody else has done or nobody thought you could do,” Hannah said.
Hannah has racked up All-District honors in both sports joining her grandfather Tommy Clifton Sr. The elder Clifton was a standout in football and named to the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame.
“(The Clifton name) has its perks and its downfalls because everybody has their eye out for you,” Hannah acknowledged. “Everybody knows who you are. That’s fun but a little overwhelming sometimes. But I wouldn’t rather be a part of any other family.
“A lot of people expect a lot out of all of us just because you’re a Clifton,” she added. “You’re supposed to be good at everything – right? It just motivates me to as good as absolutely can be and keep a good name for the Clifton name.”
Hannah and her younger brother Tommy have shined in softball, volleyball, football and baseball the past three years.
Trying to keep up with four sports has kept Tommy Jr. busy.
“Happy for her, I think she’s going to do well,” he said. “Hannah works hard and she’s a team player. And she’s a good kid. She’s smart. She always puts the team first. She’s worked her butt off to get to where she is today. She’s never been in any trouble. That’s the main thing. She’s a good girl.”
Another aspect of Hannah’s time at MCHS has been her participation in school activities and supporting her classmates. Those are characteristics similar to the 2019 Millington Star Readers’ Choice Woman of the Year, her mother Debby.
“Since my Mom and I are really close and she does a lot for the school, I like to go around with here,” Hannah said. “And I am friends with a lot of the football players and basketball players. I like to be around them.
“And since she feeds them a lot, she extends the invitation to me as well,” she continued. “Being out in the community and making friends with whoever you can be I learned from her. It is a good trait to have.”
Debby said her daughter naturally gives of her time and has a strong love for her hometown.
“Hannah is an individual who has passion and drive for life,” she said. “She’s unique because she succeeds because she wants to see other succeed. That kind of carries the weight for her.
“It is the most overwhelming, breathtaking experience because I know she’s loved,” Debby added. “I can feel it. This is kind of proof of all that.”
The MCHS Library was overflowing with support for Hannah on her signing day.
“It is the most complete moment that I have experienced as a parent,” Debby said. “I feel I have accomplished something special because she has accomplished the first step in completing the rest of her dreams.
“I started to see her potential playing at middle school age,” she added. “She started playing in Atoka for Dee Ross. Dee kind of pulled something out of her — a passion, a drive.”
Tommy said Hannah’s drive has always been there on the diamond.
“Aggression, when she’s on the field there’s no filter,” he recalled. “But when’s she’s off the field she can let it go. She doesn’t beat herself up. She knows she’s going to make mistakes but she rebounds from it and moves on to the next play.
“That’s the best thing about her,” Tommy continued. “I think that has helped her be as good as she has been because she can move on and not get in her own head.”
Horton has had the privilege of cultivating Hannah’s skills and ability helping her reach her dreams.
“It’s kind of a surreal moment as a coach,” Horton said. “Coming in here four years ago meeting her as a freshman, she started for me for four years. She was a varsity starter. Never played a lick of JV for me, her talent is one of the best talents I’ve ever got the pleasure of coaching.
“Every year it’s ‘What can I do to get better? I want to play in college,’” she continued. “That moment came and she worked hard. Ever thing worked out for her and she’s getting to live her dream.”
Hannah said she appreciates Horton making her a better player and person by investing in her on and off the field.
“I would like for her to be able to use me as an example,” she said. “It’s going to be very bittersweet with Senior Night tonight. She’s been the only coach I’ve had all four years vs. volleyball when I had a different coach every year. She’s like another mom.”
Tommy is not surprised his daughter built a tight bond with her four-year softball coach.
“She cares about others before herself,” he said. “She has always been that way treating everybody with respect. Overall she’s a good girl. Type of daughter a father can be very proud of.”
Horton said she is proud of Hannah as well and said she will be great at the next level.
“That fire, she has that look of fire and intensity in her eyes,” she noted. “She hates losing. She hates messing up. She’s such a competitor. As a coach, you only get a player like her once in a blue moon coming through your program. I was blessed to be able to coach her for four years.
“She’s one of the ones I know when she leaves this program, she’s going to do great things, work hard and earn her spot there at Dyersburg State,” Horton continued. “Coach White at Dyersburg got himself a good one in Hannah.”
With all the compliments directed toward Hannah among all the Cliftons and other family members, Hannah was humbled by the end of the ceremony.
“I like to hear that because that’s the spirit I try to give off,” she said. “I am kind hearted and that I care about what other people think and what other people are going through.
“Not everybody lives the same life I do,” Hannah concluded. “Some people have it hard. Not everyone has the same experiences I do. And being on the field everybody wants to be an aggressive player. So being used as an example for more than one aspect in life I like that a lot.”