Legendary coach shares wisdom with Rotarians
By Chris Sokoloski
Don’t tell John McKissick it isn’t about winning or losing but about how you play the game.
“It makes a big difference on who wins and who loses,” McKissick told the Georgetown Rotary Club on Tuesday afternoon. “Winning is positive and success is positive. Losing is negative. Failure is negative. … I think it’s an American tradition to have a burning desire to succeed. Winning is the American way of life.”
McKissick knows about winning. He has led Summerville High School’s football team to 602 wins in 61 years as head coach. In 1993 he set the record for most wins by a high school football coach, and has added 197 more since then.
Summerville has won 10 state championships under McKissick, and put together a 41-game winning streak from 1978 to 1980.
“A lot of people think all I do is stress winning,” McKissick said. “I don’t stress winning, I stress character also, and I expect all my coaches to do it too.”
He said there’s not much difference between athletic competitions and the game of life.
“We all have adversity,” McKissick said. “We’ll all have obstacles. We’ve got to overcome them. … Always strive to be on top. I tell everybody that and I try to do that myself. It’s the bottom that’s really overcrowded.”
The long-time coach scoffs at people who consider athletics to be “extra-curricular” activities. He calls athletics “co-curricular.”
Athletics teach young people about hard work, commitment, teamwork, and what it takes to be a success.
“I’ve seen shy boys become leaders,” McKissick said. “I’ve seen immoral boys find God’s strong character. I’ve seen rich boys and poor boys bleed together on the goal line. And in Summerville, I’ve seen misfits find their place in society, all because of athletics.”
McKissick’s many professional honors include: charter member of the S.C. Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Fame; member of the S.C. Athletic Hall of Fame; 2011 Don Shula NFL High School Coach of the Year; and 1980 and 2009 National High School Football Coach of the Year.
For all his professional accolades, the one he is proudest of is being inducted into the S.C. Hall of Fame. McKissick, New York Yankees great Bobby Richardson, and NASCAR legend Cale Yarborough are the only sportsmen in the Hall.
Although he’s had offers to leave Summerville, and even interviewed for other jobs, he loves the town and said it was a great place for him and his wife, Joan, to raise their family.
“It’s a great place to live,” McKissick said.
McKissick retired from teaching several years ago, but remains as head football coach and athletic director. He spends several days a week at a second home he’s owned in DeBordieu for more than 30 years. And he’s looking forward to the start of his 62nd year of coaching in August.
“I like what I do. That’s why I’m still working,” McKissick said. “I feel sad for anybody who gets up in the morning and dreads going to work. Honesty, I cannot ever remember one day in my life where I dreaded getting up and going to work.”
The Georgetown Rotary Club is hosting its annual Shag Festival on April 6 from 7-11 p.m. on King Street in Georgetown.
Free shag lessons for ticket holders begin at 6 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the event.
For more information go to www.shagfestival.com.
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