About Eugene

name: Eugene Gilbert Graves

age: 84

born: Jan. 9, 1930

died: May 24, 2014

community: Charleston

survived by: Daughter Lauryce Graves-McIver, son Eugene Gilbert Graves Jr. and two grandchildren

occupation: Head basketball coach, assistant football coach and administrator with Bonds-Wilson High School, North Charleston; activities and athletic director with the Cannon Street YMCA, downtown Charleston.

Sometimes in life, there is a coach who is more than just the whistle and the clipboard, more than just running routes and setting screens. He is a leader, mentor and an inspiration. Former students and athletes say that he is Eugene Graves.

The youngest of five children, he was born on Jan. 9, 1930, to James Robert Blackburn Graves and Rose Laura Graves in Charleston. He died May 24 at the age of 84.

After earning a degree in physical education from Hampton Institute in Hampton, Va., in the early 1950s, Graves returned to the Lowcountry and began his decades-long career with the former Bonds-Wilson High School in North Charleston. He was the school's head basketball coach and assistant football coach. He became an administrator after the school integrated in 1971. The school closed down in 1985.

One of Graves' standout athletes was Art Shell, a 1964 Bonds-Wilson graduate who, after earning his degree at University of Maryland Eastern Shore, was a third-round pick of the Oakland Raiders in the 1968 NFL draft.

According to a former student, Graves "always wanted to make a point, teach a lesson and cause his subject to look for more information."

"He had a method for everything he did," said former student Gus Holt. "The kids would want to grab a basketball and shoot hoops, but Mr. Graves ... insisted that he have a diverse, physical curriculum."

This particular curriculum included square dancing, ballroom dancing, gymnastics and bowling.

He was trying "to keep them fit and moving while he waited for the school's athletic equipment to arrive," echoed Graves' daughter, Lauryce Graves-McIver.

"The students didn't believe they could have so much fun learning square dancing," Holt joked.

Graves taught ballroom dancing to the local debutantes and their escorts, according to his memorial program. It was only natural that he carry it over into the school.

According to Holt, Graves didn't want his students and athletes to be one-dimensional. He wanted them to be exposed to different things.

His coaching advice would carry over from sports and could be applied to life, the sign of a true mentor. A former student remembered some of his favorite sayings:

"Athletes are seldom great because of talent but mostly because of preparation."

"Highly talented athletes have a tendency to rely on skill, but they can be outworked."

"You cannot win a sprint race if you are slow getting out of the blocks."

"To beat an opponent that's deemed to be more talented, you must sustain a cohesive effort from whistle to whistle."

And the quintessential encouragement on sportsmanship:

"When that one great scorer comes to mark against your name, he writes not whether you won or lost, but how you played the game."

In addition to coaching at Bonds-Wilson High School, Graves was the activities and athletic director with the Cannon Street YMCA.

He was the last surviving chaperone for the Cannon Street All-Stars, said Holt, who is also the historian for the YMCA's Little League team.

Graves was responsible for making sure the equipment was there and the games were played on time.

The Cannon Street All-Star Team was made up of a group of 12-year-old boys from four baseball teams organized by the Cannon Street YMCA, the first Little League for black youth in South Carolina. After racism and segregation prevented the boys from being able to play in the state's championship games in 1955, they were invited to attend the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., as spectators.

They weren't allowed to compete for the national title because they hadn't advanced through tournament play, but their attendance was encouraged and supported by the fans in Pennsylvania, a far cry from the boycott they received from the white players in the South.

Graves-McIver recalls that her father's greatest achievement was teaching how to give love to spouses and family.

"Daddy was very solid, and, in retrospect, everything he did was for his family," she said. "He did whatever he thought was best for our family and sacrificed himself and time to make sure that our needs were met."

In Graves' memorial program, son-in-law Harrison McIver reflected that "family was paramount" to Graves and his "manner of relating to family and others will be a lasting memory for the remainder of my life."

Other comments from family and friends from the program refer to Graves as "a model of how a man should be" and a "stand-up kind of man."

His marriage to Gertrude Mackey Graves was described as being "truly made in heaven."

Graves' impact on others was indeed remarkable. A former classmate memorialized him by saying that he "had bonded with this wonderful person at such a level, that I told him that if I ever fathered a son, he would carry the name Eugene."

He advised mourners to admire their memories and "feel the joy that their presence brings to you and rejoice that nothing or no one can ever take that from you."

Reach Liz Foster at 937-5582.