Joan was in the 10th grade, sitting in Preacher's drug store in Kingstree, the first time she saw John. It was love at first sight.
He already was done with high school and in college. When he asked her for a date, Joan's mom would only allow it if they double-dated. That was in 1948.
Four years later, she married John McKissick and they moved to a little town called Summerville, where the high school contained 296 students.
Now 62 years later, there are two children, four grandchildren and six great-grands. The school has nearly 4,000 students and the head football coach has 613 victories and 10 state titles.
That's a pretty solid resume right there. Joan McKissick has created a scrapbook for every one of those years. All 62 of those books are in the "green" room at their house along with the pictures, trophies and signed balls that pay tribute to the legendary coach's accomplishments.
Joan, 83, says, "It's been a long, wonderful life, but I'm glad I like football." She must have more than a passing interest. She's only missed four games in 62 years.
And talk about in sickness and in health, she's attended games in a wheelchair and at other times while extremely pregnant. There she is, though, Friday after Friday, watching John and his team on the field.
Nobody knows more about the coach than his wife. John, who will be 88 next month, has no hobbies. He doesn't golf, fish or even piddle in the yard much anymore.
They don't really discuss "the subject" very often. Joan just assumes he'll keep coaching until his health prevents it. His doctors continue to tell him there's no reason his body and mind aren't still capable.
Is the nation's winningest high school coach mellowing? According to the person who knows him best ... maybe? He seems a tad more understanding when players suffer injuries or struggle with the heat. Joan says he appears more thoughtful and sympathetic to those concerns than he once did.
However, he continues to have strong feelings about long hair, tattoos and earrings. Mrs. McKissick says he hates all those things on his football players. There are team policies that offer restrictions on those matters. He calls ear piercings ear-bobs, by the way. No ear-bobs on the football field.
One thing that remains a constant is his demeanor on game days. He still gets all worried and keyed up and Joan keeps to herself.
Life of the wife
For the third consecutive year, Joan is dealing with a broken hip. At the moment a cane is needed, before she comes off the injury list. Is the coach much of a caretaker?
"It doesn't come natural to him, but he gives it his best shot." He also fusses at her if she hasn't done her exercises. Sounds like the coach doesn't always leave the whistle at the field.
Any game day superstitions? Early on, the coach wore a particular white dress shirt on the sidelines. He wanted only that shirt and Joan did her best to make sure it was laundered and pressed for the next game. Years ago, McKissick would also smoke a cigar on the sidelines. He dropped that habit when their daughter, Cindy, started picking up the butts and putting them in her mouth.
Young coach's wives often ask her how she managed to raise a family, work outside the home 30 years, clean the house, do the laundry, cook and still only miss four games in six decades? Her answer is simple. "I don't have to go, I want to be there."
Tonight, she will be in Charlotte for the team's opening game. I guess it really was love at first sight.
We all know John McKissick can coach. The secret to all this success might very well have been his first recruit.
Reach Warren Peper at 937-5577 or wpeper@ postandcourier.com.
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