Though he no longer roams the sidelines as the legendary football coach at Summerville High School, 89-year old John McKissick showed on Saturday night that he can still work a room and captivate an audience.
McKissick was the focus of attention and the guest of honor at the 2016 Legacy Gala, hosted by the Dorchester Two Educational Foundation. The event served a two-fold purpose — to honor McKissick’s career and to raise money for Summerville High’s new sports medicine lab.
The new athletic training center on the campus will be named The McKissick Center, it was announced by Dorchester school superintendent Joe Pye. The number of students involved in the school’s athletic training and sports medicine classes is nearing 500, up from about 30 students 20 years ago.
An estimated crowd of 300 friends, family, former players and coaches joined the head coaches of the state’s two major college football programs — Will Muschamp of South Carolina and Dabo Swinney of Clemson, who relayed stories of admiration for McKissick.
McKissick retired from coaching last summer after 62 seasons, 621 victories and 10 state championships. He remains the winningest football coach in history at any level.
“He’s a legend, not only in South Carolina, but across America,” Muschamp told the crowd. “I am a football fanatic and I enjoy learning about the history of our game. High school football is the purest form of our sport and coach McKissick is the best there ever was coaching our game.”
Swinney relayed a story about his first clinic speech after becoming Clemson’s head coach in 2009.
“Sitting on the front row, taking notes the whole time, was John McKissick,” Swinney said. “I remember thinking to myself, ‘what can I possibly say about football in front of this man.’ He is the best of the best. He is the winningest coach of our sport, ever. You get that? Ever. For 63 years he did it the right way, with humility and class. I stand in amazement coach McKissick.”
After Swinney and Muschamp spoke, McKissick was announced to the crowd, which promptly gave the coach a standing ovation as he slowly strolled to the podium.
“I really don’t feel I deserve all of this attention. But, I have a little arthritis and I don’t deserve that either,” McKissick said as the crowd roared with laughter. “In all honesty though, there are a lot of coaches in the state that could have accomplished what I have because there is no better place to coach football than Summerville. The support I have had here, from the community, the coaches and the administration — anybody could win here.”
On the occasion of raising money for the school’s athletic training department, McKissick relayed what he termed “a true story.”
“Our first training room, when I got hired, was a cabinet,” McKissick said. “The coach I was replacing (Harvey Kirkland) opened it up and there was a bottle of Castor oil and a spoon. He told me, ‘open that cabinet and show them what’s in it and they won’t get sick anymore.’ ”
As he closed the evening, he spoke of his age and how he looks forward to his 90th birthday in September.
“The thing about getting old — there’s not much peer pressure,” he said.