Longtime South Carolina high school coach on verge of 500 wins

Posted: Thursday, August 28, 2003

SUMMERVILLE, S.C. John McKissick is on the brink of going where no other football coach has ever gone to 500 victories.

The 76-year-old coach of Summerville High School is just three away from the mark that's even eluded his counterparts in college and the pros.

''When you've been in this thing a long time, you always look forward to the next game, to the next season. You don't stop to add it up,'' said McKissick, whose 52nd season begins Friday against Berkeley.

McKissick, who set the victories mark in 1993 with his 406th win, stands at 497-116-13. His 500th win could come as soon as Sept. 12 at John McKissick Stadium against Wando. McKissick has told his assistants and players to do what he's doing forget about history and concentrate on Berkeley, then James Island and then Wando.

''If it totals up to 500, you say, 'Dang, I've been around a long time,''' he said. ''I have been around a long time.''

The community is buzzing and planning celebrations to honor their favorite resident, who started at Summerville for $2,700 a year during the Korean War and has piled up 10 South Carolina state titles, seven undefeated seasons and a 41-game win streak between 1978-80. He's only had two losing seasons (1957, 2001).

''His life is football, his life is Summerville,'' said school district superintendent Joseph Pye.

According to the National Federation of State High School Associations' record book, McKissick is 104 wins ahead of the next-highest active coach, John T. Curtis Jr. of River Ridge (La.) John Curtis Christian School, who is 393-45-6 the past 33 years and fourth all time.

Pete Adkins, who won 405 games with two Missouri high schools from 1951-94 stands second all-time. Gordon Wood, whose record McKissick broke in 1993 when it was thought the Texas coach had 405 victories, was third with 396 wins at eight schools from 1940-85. Wood's record was revised downward in 2001.

McKissick doesn't talk or act like he's leaving anytime soon.

''As long as he can contribute, there's no end in sight for him,'' the superintendent said.

McKissick said he's part parent, part psychologist, part community activist and part football coach. Some of his players are the grandsons of boys McKissick led in the 1950s.

''It's all anybody wants to do is play for coach McKissick,'' said Preston Thorne, a defensive lineman on Summerville's last championship team in 1998 and now a starter for South Carolina. ''You grow up waiting to do that. He's just the man down there.''

That's proved as soon as you walk into the school. Two trophy cases next to the main office are dedicated to McKissick. The footballs for record-breaking win No. 406 and the Green Wave's last championship team are there, along with a Heisman-like trophy with the inscription, ''Coach John McKissick America's Winningest Coach.''

There's the Order of the Palmetto given McKissick in 1986 by then-Gov. Carroll Campbell. And above it hangs a portrait of his wife of 51 years, Joan, thanking her for ''50 years of service to Summerville High School.''

What makes him happiest though are when he walks downtown in the city about 20 miles north of Charleston and sees a doctor, storeowner or builder who came through his athletic program.

''And it's a good feeling to see them out being successful,'' McKissick said. ''There's somebody in every field and they're out there doing real well and they're proud to have been through here.''

Virg Polak, football chairman for the National High School Athletic Coaches Association, said McKissick's marks of longevity may never be touched.

''People are getting out of our business at an earlier age than ever,'' said Polak, a football assistant for 27 years at Watertown (S.D.) High. ''It's hard to have a leader like that these days.''

McKissick credits longtime staffers with part of the success of Summerville's program. Offensive coordinator Pinky Guerard has been with the Green Wave for 33 years, and receivers coach William Penn has 30 years.

''After about five years, I said, 'Heck, I'm hanging right here with him,''' Guerard said, pointing to his longtime boss. ''You always have a chance to win, always have good athletes and working with coach has always been fun.''

Joan, McKissick's wife, keeps nudging her husband to life after football. Last month, they were at the beach when she said, ''Look, now if you were retired, you wouldn't have to go home.''

''Yeah,'' McKissick said, ''but I'm looking forward to going home and going to work.''

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