John McKissick admits he’s slowed down. After all, it’s been more than a decade since he climbed a ladder to paint the second story of his beach house in DeBordieu.
Years at Summerville: 62
Undefeated seasons: 5
Region championships: 35
State championships: 10
But when it comes to football, the legendary coach is at full throttle as he begins his 62nd year at Summerville High School.
John McKissick: Then and Now
Coach John McKissick has been at Summerville High School since 1952. Much has changed during his career:
Enrollment at Summerville High School 296 3,165
Minimum wage $0.75 $7.25
Average cost of a new home $9,050 $295,000
Population of the United States: 157,552.740 316,264.000*
How has McKissick, who celebrates his 87th birthday on Sept. 25, managed to stay on top of his game? The answer is simple. He has a healthy lifestyle, a good mental outlook and loves his job.
Dr. David Baggett has been the Summerville team doctor since 1986 and McKissick’s personal physician since 1987. Baggett acknowledges he’s seen a change in McKissick over the last four or five years, though not in the way one might expect.
“He seems sharper, more energized,” Baggett said. “I think it has to be the passion he has for his job. He loves being the football coach at Summerville High School, and he appreciates it more each year.
“He still knows the players’ names, knows the schemes. Here’s a man who has coached three generations of players. The most amazing thing is that he’s 86 years old and can still talk to 16- and 17-year-old kids.”
McKissick, the only football coach in the country to win 600 game at any level, will be in charge as fall practice begins Friday.
He oversees more than 150 players on the varsity, junior varsity and B teams and leads a staff of more than a dozen coaches.
McKissick will spend a good portion of practice in a golf cart, wearing a straw hat, long-sleeved shirt and long pants to protect himself from the sun. He’ll be outside for nearly five hours and then move inside to break down the two-a-day practices. It’s a long day in the August heat for anyone, but McKissick is ready for the challenge because of his healthy lifestyle.
He’s up at 6 a.m. every day and is in bed by 10 p.m. His wife Joan says he eats grapefruit and cereal for breakfast, followed by yogurt and fruit for lunch. The couple has a “good-sized country home meal” for dinner.
“He doesn’t like sweets,” Mrs. McKissick said. “He’ll fuss at me because I like sweets. He watches what he eats. But the main thing is he’s been blessed by the Lord. He loves life and loves his job. He loves football. Football is his life.”
He’s also been blessed with relatively good health.
He was hospitalized in February 2005 after nearly fainting in his yard. Doctors discovered a blocked cerebral artery in the back lower part of McKissick’s head. His cardiologist implanted a pacemaker in his chest.
At around the same time, McKissick was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He received 48 treatments of radiation. He said neither illness slowed him down for very long. He wouldn’t allow it.
“I tell you how it works,” he said. “When I started, I thought 30 years from now, ‘I can retire.’ Well, it got to be 30 years, and I thought there was still a lot to accomplish. When the 30 years were up, I wasn’t ready. Some people think I have been around too long. I have a house at the beach and I go there. But after a couple of days, I get bored. I’m ready to get back to Summerville and coach football.”
Comp McCurry played for McKissick from 1982-84 and has been a Summerville assistant coach for 24 years. McCurry’s father, Olin, was McKissick’s assistant back in the ’60s.
“He’s been around so long, it seems he’s always supposed to be here,” Comp McCurry said. “When my son, Mac, was young, I told coach ‘You might coach my son one day. I didn’t really believe he would. But lo and behold, he did. Mac’s on the team.”
There was a great deal of speculation the coach with 10 state championships and more victories than anyone else would retire after reaching the 600 milestone last year. McKissick says he never gave it much thought.
Neither did his doctor.
“I think he will coach to the end,” Baggett said. “I don’t see him retiring. That’s music to my ears — he is Summerville football.”