600 and counting: Bishop England’s Runey still going strong

Coach Paul Runey's Bishop England girls basketball team won the Class AAA state championship last year and will start this season as the No. 1 team in Class AAA. File/Frankie Mansfield/Special to The Post and Courier 

A self-proclaimed “Bishop England lifer,” Paul Runey shows no clear signs of letting up as he continues to lead one of the state’s top girls basketball programs.

Runey reached a major career milestone on Saturday, notching his 600th career victory in this his 31st season as coach. According to unofficial South Carolina High School League records, Runey is the seventh coach in state history to reach 600 wins. The state record for career victories is 869, held by Manning’s John Thames.

“You know, 600 is special, I guess, but it’s just a number,” said Runey as he watched his team practice on Monday morning. “I haven’t won a single game. I have had a lot of great kids come through here that have worked hard and have won all of those games.

“Society measures coaching success by wins and losses. For me, I tend to measure success on how much I can get out of a team in a given year. As the athletic director here, I measure our coaches the same way. If you get the maximum out of your team, if your team works hard and enjoys playing for you, then you are a successful coach.”

Runey, a 1974 graduate of Bishop England, actually began his coaching career as an 18-year old college freshman. While attending College of Charleston, Runey was asked by football coach Jack Cantey to help out with the football team. A few years later, Runey changed his college major from business to education.

“I was hooked,” he said. “By the time I was 21 or so, I knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my life coaching and teaching.”

Over the last 41 years, Runey has coached wrestling, baseball, tennis, basketball and football at the school. He spent five seasons (1994-98) as the head football coach and was a member of the football coaching staff for 25 years.

Basketball, however, is where Runey has made his mark. The Bishops have been one of the state’s top Class AA programs for more than a decade, winning two of the last three state championships, including last season’s. Bishop England has never had a losing season under Runey.

Runey was the junior varsity boys basketball coach when he was asked prior to the 1984-85 school year if he would coach the varsity girls team, a move he considered a promotion.

“I still thought of myself back then as a football coach, but I felt like it would be good experience for me as a coach to coach the girls’ basketball team,” says Runey. “I really didn’t go into it thinking I would do it for 31 years, but at the same time, I never really set a time limit or time frame on it. We were able to have some success, and winning certainly is fun. It was just a really enjoyable experience. The girls worked really hard and they made it a lot of fun. When you’re having fun doing something that most people call work, you don’t just quit doing it.”

Family is a word thrown around a lot of successful teams and programs, but the Bishop England “family” is like no other. Runey says 12 of the team’s 15 players on last year’s state championship team were second- or third-generation players at Bishop England.

“I coached or taught their moms and dads, and to me that makes this a really special place,” said Runey. “I have an assistant coach, Jules Schwerin, that has been with me for 31 years, and he was helping the former coach when I took over. These are special people. The players, the assistant coaches, all of these people have so much to do with whatever I have been able to accomplish.”

Junior point guard Jo Jo Thompkins remembers growing up watching Runey’s teams play and set a goal early on in life to being a part of the program.

“It’s an honor to be able to play for coach Runey, and every player on this team feels special that we were a part of the 600th win,” said Thompkins. “Coach knows how to bring out the best in every player, and that’s why we love him so much.”

Runey, who turns 59 on Monday, said he plans to continue coaching for several more years. While he has no timetable and no goals of reaching 700 or even 800 career wins, the coach knows that the day will come when he has to step away.

“When it becomes a job, it’s time for me to go,” he said. “I still enjoy it and I hope to continue to do it for a while longer. Winning 700 games or whatever, that is not what drives me. What motivates me is these kids. Obviously, retirement is coming, but I certainly hope I can keep going a while longer.”