St. Clair, whose 170 wins are most in program history, announced Wednesday he will retire at the end of this school year, capping a stint of 28 years with the school district and 30 as an educator.

Mark St. Clair feels no need validate his career by taking a Hall of Fame tour with stops at schools he has battled the past two decades.

Rather, when the longtime Hannibal coach enters the Missouri Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame this December, he will do so with his 20-year tenure in the rear-view mirror.

St. Clair, whose 170 wins are most in program history, announced Wednesday he will retire at the end of this school year, capping a stint of 28 years with the school district and 30 as an educator.

“I’ve been blessed to be here for this amount of time,” St. Clair said. “If you look across the country, the average stay for a football coach at a school is somewhere between four and five years. I’ve been fortunate to be here. I’ve raised my kids in this community. I’ve sent my kids to this school. I love this school. I love the town. It’s a tough decision, but the kids and the coaches, the relationships you build, I think are the most important thing that I’m going to take from it.”

The coach said his decision was not simple and one he would not have made without being certain the kids currently on the team remained in a stable situation going forward.

“It’s been a three-month, me thinking about it and going back-and- forth decision,” St. Clair said. “Meeting with the kids was extremely tough because I’m very close to them. It was trying. But I thought about it a lot. I feel good leaving at this time because I know the kids will be left in great hands. We’ve got great coaches, a great system, a great school, and I know they’ll be left taken care of by great people.”

St. Clair, 52, admitted the idea of retirement has been on his mind for some time now, especially following the passing of his late wife, Mary Ann.

He thanked his two daughters for their unwavering support through the peaks and valleys of his life.

“They were supportive one way or another,” said St. Clair as he began to choke up. “They told me to do what is best for me. The last three years have been trying, tough times, so having their support has been very important to me.”

St. Clair said he now will focus his attention to areas of his life he hasn’t had adequate time for while facing the demands of what at times is an around-the-clock position. For example, he wants to visit relatives he doesn’t often see, play pickle ball with friends and maybe take that trip out West he’s been dreaming about.

Sometimes, “the later on in life” never comes, he said, explaining why now was the time to make the decision.

“I think it’s time to do something for myself for a little while, to enjoy life a little bit,” he said. “I’m sure that there will come a time I’ll figure out that I need to do something else, but right now, (it’s about) enjoying time to myself and enjoying some time to do some things I’ve given up for 30 years. What the next step is, I don’t know, but I don’t have to make that decision so I’m not going to do it right now.”

St. Clair said there is not specific moment that stands out among the rest during his time leading the football team, but rather many that blend together.

“There have been some many good times in my years as head football coach,” he said. “There’s the trip to the state championship, and the quarterfinal here against Parkway North was one everybody will remember. And this past year was really great for me seeing the improvement of the team.”

His 20 years leading the football program have been just as much about what he’s learned as what he’s taught, he said.

“Everybody talks about what we’ve taught the kids, but the kids have taught me a lot,” he said. “In 30 years of teaching, I’ve learned as much from them as they have from me. I’ve appreciated them, particularly in these past three years. We’ve got great kids, and they’ve been one of the reasons I’ve been able to stay in it this long.”

Making an impact

Hannibal High School principal Ted Sampson has a long history knowing St. Clair. It all began when Sampson was on the Pirates football team for the coach’s first four seasons with the program.

By the time Sampson was a senior guard, Hannibal had elevated the football program to the next level, claiming its first district championship and reaching the state quarterfinals.

Sampson said the longtime coach can be best described as an intense competitor — something that hasn’t much changed over time.

“I always tell the kids he’s easy compared to how he was on us,” Sampson joked. “He’s not afraid to tell kids stories about he used to yell at me when he had to and redirect me if I wasn’t doing what he liked. He has high expectations.”

With that being said, what stands out most about St. Clair is the willing heart he has to do anything to help, Sampson said.

“No matter where you see Mark, whatever the situation may be, whether it’s on the football field or in the hallway or out when you’re having a social time, he’s always willing to provide advice or just lend an ear,” Sampson said.

Sampson remained involved with the football program on a volunteer basis during his college days and took on an assistant coaching role from 2005-2013 before beginning his tenure as an administrator.

As someone who’s seen St. Clair in action more than most anyone else, Sampson said he has consistently witnessed the coach teaching kids lessons that apply to everyday life.

“What a lot of people don’t realize is the time and effort he puts int outside the regular school day making sure kids have everything they need to be successful whether it be the skills on the field or the resources outside of school, taking them home, making sure they have food to eat,” Sampson said. “Just a lot of those things that people take for granted that isn’t required for a public school employee but makes a big difference.”

Fostering leaders

Clint Graham, the Hannibal athletics and activities director, vividly remembers his first encounter with St. Clair.

It was 2003, and Graham was in his first year as an educator at what was then the district’s alternative school.

St. Clair approached Graham and asked if he would want to coach middle school football.

“Coach, I don’t know anything,” Graham recalls saying.

As it turns out, St. Clair took it upon himself to teach him.

“He gave me the opportunity to get involved with kids and showed me the right way to deal with kids,” Graham said. “He’s had a huge impact on me as well as countless through the years in the community. I can’t say enough things about coach St. Clair.

“A lot of times, he’s put kids in other families in front of his just so he knew that they were being taken care of. To hear him say he wants an opportunity to do something for Mark, I know it’s hard for him, but I’m excited for him to finally get a chance to do that.”

Earning respect

Fellow North Central Missouri Conference coach Steve Haag of Mexico was preparing for his first game in charge of his program when he received a call out of the blue.

It was St. Clair.

“My first game in 2014, he was the only football coach that called me personally and wished me luck,” Haag said of St. Clair, his North Central Missouri Conference rival. “He told me to enjoy it because there will never be another game like it. He was right.”

Haag said he knew any game against Hannibal would be a physical battle against a team with a never-say-die attitude.

“They never gave up,” he said. “We found that out a few times playing them under my tenure, and I don’t think it was any different before that. You always were going to get a very physical, very good game. Mark did a great job in the fact that, it’s not how much you do, it’s how well you do it.”

Hannibal and Mexico have played each other within a touchdown four out of the past five meetings, including a 20-19 victory for St. Clair’s Pirates this past year.

Haag said St. Clair is a prime example of what stability and structure can bring to a football program — especially over the course of 20 years.

“If you didn’t stop them, you were going to have a long night,” Haag said. “I know Mexico had a few of those nights. Over the years, he’s just done a great job with the kids and been a really good sportsman. He always promoted the conference and gave credit where credit was due.”

Mark Twain head coach Karl Asbury, who served as an assistant coach to St. Clair for two seasons before taking over the Tigers program in 2015, has a similar perspective on St. Clair.

Asbury said that St. Clair's longevity is a testament to the strong-character person the longtime coach is. Asbury, who has coached for 13 years, said the stability St. Clair brought to the Hannibal program was a major reason it has achieved such heights of success.

"What I took away from the two years I was with him was just the way he interacted with the other coaches, the officials — all the experience he gained doing that," Asbury said. "That was what got to me. Little things like that can help out on a Friday night."

Leaving a legacy

Perhaps the best way to get a glimpse into the legacy St. Clair leaves behind is to hear the voices of players he has coached through the years.

Current and former players flooded social media Wednesday to offer thanks and praise toward their leader.

Dylan Powell, now a freshman lineman at Stanford University, tweeted: “I could not thank Coach St. Clair enough for what he has done for me as a man and a player! I would not be the man I am today without him!”

Trevor Watson, who was the Pirates starting quarterback during what ultimately was St. Clair’s final season, had this to say on Twitter: “Special last season with Coach this year. 4 years of my life I will never forget. Thank you Coach!”

St. Clair also garnered praise from former track and field athletes. The coach led the track program for 27 years.

“Best head football and track coach that school will ever have, honored to have him as my track coach for those 4 years,” posted Sean Jones, a freshman at Hannibal La-Grange.

Moving forward

Graham, along with district administration, now has the unenviable responsibility of choosing St. Clair’s replacement.

Those discussions will start another day, he said.

“I thought I had one more year to get ready for this, but it’s here now and we’ll move forward and get a great replacement in there for him and keep on churning out good programs,” Graham said.

For now, the district wants all focus to be on St. Clair and the legacy he leaves on the community.

“The impact he’s made over the past 28 years with this community,” Graham said, “there’s probably not a person in the Hannibal community that doesn’t know who Mark St. Clair is.”