By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor
John Leafer, who retired as athletic director for Muskogee Public Schools in 2003, died Wednesday evening after a lengthy illness. He was 70.
Leafer was a coach at Muskogee Central High starting in 1967 and was on staff when Central and Manual Training merged through integration in 1971. He was head baseball coach and also served as an assistant football coach until 1976. His 1974 baseball team at MHS was a state champion.
Bobby Jefferson, who succeeded Leafer as athletic director, was his catcher on the state title team.
“A sad day. I’ve lost a friend and mentor,” Jefferson said on Thursday. “One of his sayings and I use it somewhere almost weekly, is ‘I feel it more than I know it’ from John Wayne in ‘True Grit.’ (Leafer) always had a gut feeling of what to do, what lineup to go with. Most kids today, you bring this up and they don’t have a clue who John Wayne was. But I did, Coach Leafer used that phrase and it sticks with me to this day.”
Jefferson said Leafer’s loss “is a loss for this community and athletics.”
“He was always a great motivator, the kind of coach who would make you take a bullet for,” Jefferson said.
Leafer left Muskogee in 1976 and coached baseball at Bacone, Northeastern State and Coweta High School before returning in 1990 where he served as assistant baseball coach and athletic director until his retirement.
“He was born about 40 years old. Just a great sense of maturity about him and one of the nicer people I’ve ever met,” said Ken Hayes, who coached basketball at NSU while Leafer led baseball there.
Leafer was a standout catcher at Tahlequah High School who went on to play at Connors State and then NSU. Eddie Shafer, a Muskogee native now living in Broken Arrow, set a season strikeout record as an NSU pitcher when Leafer caught.
“That record was as much his as mine,” Shafer said. “When he’d signal a pitch, he’d give you a target and unlike today when you see catchers shifting their glove and moving around, his target never moved once he gave a signal.”
Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday at First Baptist Church in Muskogee.