James Lemuel Zeigler was a North Charleston community sports coach and SPAWAR retiree
To Sandra Zeigler, it seems as if James Lemuel Zeigler always was a coach. Her husband got involved with community sports after seeing their son, Jimmy, play youth sports at W.B. Goodwin Field. Zeigler started by coaching baseball in the early 1970s.
Then he just kept on coaching until the mid-90s, Sandra says. Their family, including four children, would have supper and then go to one of his games. Afterward, he would sit at the kitchen table with other men rehashing the game play by play late into the night as she cooked for them.
Zeigler, born in Bamberg on Feb. 12, 1937, died April 6. In addition to coaching, he was formerly a manager of the Satellite Communications Lab at the Charleston Naval Weapons Station.
“We were married almost 54 years,” Sandra says. “We met down on George Street. We met across the driveway from each other. I put a valentine under his door, and he came hunting for me to check my handwriting. Of course, he knew I had done it.” They were in their early teens.
Her late husband, who played football as a teen, spent time coaching baseball, football and basketball. In addition to Goodwin, he coached at Danny Jones Field and the Summerville YMCA.
Zeigler’s teams were made up of boys from the Glyn Terrace, Wando Woods, Evanston Estates and Oakridge Estates subdivisions and the mobile home parks around that area.
“My husband loved to run into them in the streets and hear about their families,” says Sandra. “He always had time to listen to them. I spent my married life standing and waiting for James to talk to those young people.”
Those he coached and mentored over the years include Frank Oakley, director of the Charleston County branch of the S.C. Department of Social Services.
“Mr. Zeigler took us boys in and taught us a lot of things, like winning wasn’t everything, even though we always won,” says Oakley, who played baseball for Zeigler at Goodwin. “Treating people the right way and being a good sportsman was most important to him. He made me into a very good athlete.”
But Zeigler cared about more than making the youths into good players, Oakley says.
“My dad was sick when I was growing up, and he could not do a lot of things, like go to the games. Mr. Zeigler helped me to become a better adult. I graduated from Francis Marion University and probably would not have made it that far if it was not for him.
“The community will miss having that mentor, that role model. And the kids desperately need someone to be that role model, to be that mentor today.”
Kenny Wilkerson grew up with Zeigler’s sons and now lives in Winnsboro.
“I coached football with him for one season at Goodwin,” Wilkerson says. “He was nice enough to let me help coach.
“You talk about a wonderful man,” Wilkerson says. “He was like the neighborhood dad. You could go to his house and he would cut up and tell jokes with you. But if you did something that was not in your best interest, he would tell you about it in a very polite and nice way. He did it in a way that you would not do it again because Mr. Zeigler told you.
“If you needed the look, whether he was your dad or not, Mr. Zeigler gave you the look. Every neighborhood should have a Mr. Zeigler. This is a man who would do anything for any kid. There was no white, black or green. They were all his kids.
“I hope everybody gets to meet a Mr. Ziegler at least once in their life,” Wilkerson says. “They will be better for it.”
Reach Wevonneda Minis at 937-5705 or wminis@ postandcourier.com.