GOOSE CREEK -- Chuck Reedy was stumped.

"Coach, can we bring our balloons to the game on Saturday?" a woman asked after practice at Goose Creek High School this week. "I need to know if we should pack up our balloons and our air tank."

Reedy thought for a moment, then said, "I don't know, but I can find out."

In Reedy's previous life as a college football coach -- on Danny Ford's 1981 national championship team at Clemson, and as head coach at Baylor University for four years -- balloons and air tanks were somebody else's job.

But at Goose Creek High, no detail is too small for the head coach's attention. And Reedy, in his 10th season with the Gators, wouldn't have it any other way.

"This is the most satisfying and enjoyable job I've ever had," said Reedy, who will return to Clemson's Memorial Stadium on Saturday to lead the Gators in their first championship game, against Greenwood.

"I coached in college for 20 years, and all of that was about climbing the ladder," he said. "But I can honestly say that having an opportunity every day to make a difference in these kids' lives, that has been special."

Twice, Reedy thought he would be Clemson's head coach, once after Ford resigned in 1989 and again after Ken Hatfield left in 1993.

"Two times, I was told I had the job," said Reedy, who worked at Clemson from 1978-89. "But it didn't work out, and I have no problems with that."

Reedy finally did get a head coaching job when he succeeded Grant Teaff at Baylor in 1993. Over four seasons Reedy's Baylor teams went 23-22, including two seven-win seasons and a share of the Southwest Conference title in 1994.

But after a change in administration, a move to the Big 12 Conference and a 4-7 record in 1995, Reedy was fired.

"My career didn't turn out like I thought it would," he said. "I got the job at Baylor, and you figure you'll be there forever or maybe make one more move, and that'd be the end of it. Didn't turn out that way."

Reedy was at South Carolina for Brad Scott's 1-10 season in 1999 -- "a disaster," he said -- before he found himself off the coaching ladder and at a crossroads in life.

He made the most if it, going in with partners to buy two restaurants and 13 Subway shops (he still owns the Subways). But he knew that if he got back into coaching, it would be different.

"I knew what I wanted," said Reedy, who is 62. "To coach in high school, a good situation where I could build a program and change kids, and control my own life. I wanted to be my own boss. It so happened that I found it here."

'World changer'

"When you came into this community years ago, you'd never see a Goose Creek bumper sticker or T-shirt," said Gators equipment manager David Burke, who has been affiliated with the school since 1974, four years after it opened.

"You never saw nothing but the big 'S', the big red 'S' -- Stratford."

Ray Stackley's successful Stratford program ruled Goose Creek for years. The year before Reedy was hired in 2002, the Gators were 0-11, and they went 1-10 in his first season.

But as the Gators got better -- making the playoffs in Reedy's third season, and the state semifinals the past two years -- the town began to notice.

Where maybe 100 people came to games in years past, stands at Charles Gibson Stadium now are packed.

The school has gone from one business partner to 26 and counting. Principal Jimmy Huskey has been busy this week rounding up buses to take students and fans to Clemson -- "as many as we can get," he said.

"It's been a world changer," said Huskey, who has worked at the school for 24 years. "I think it's changed the whole makeup of the school. The kids feel proud about it. They see what hard work and dedication can do. It's changed the whole atmosphere."

Success breeds success

Football success also has thrown a spotlight on one of the Lowcountry's most diverse schools -- Goose Creek is 44 percent African-American, 39 percent Caucasian, 9 percent Hispanic and 5 percent Asian, Huskey said.

The school is home to the Berkeley Center for the Arts, a "school within a school" magnet program. Test scores and community support have been on the rise, Huskey said.

"There's a pride now in how people look at our school, and I think a lot of it is due to the success of our athletic programs," he said. "Boys and girls basketball have been successful, wrestling and now football. People want to be associated with a winner."

It was chilly as Reedy emerged from the gym for practice one day this week, sliding a jacket over his short-sleeved shirt.

"Ah Coach, you couldn't take it," yelled one of the Gators. "Not as tough as you thought your were, huh?"

"Coach Reedy has a good sense of humor," said senior linebacker Raemond Robinson. "We can joke with him and talk about his old coaching days at Clemson. But when it's game time, he's serious."

Of course, Reedy's got some serious talent on his team. Linebacker T.J. Burrell has committed to Clemson, and 6-0, 265-pound fullback Virgil Smalls will play at South Carolina.

Robinson has signed to play basketball at The Citadel, and Bulldog football coaches are looking hard at senior quarterback Jaquan Marsh.

Then there's a junior class led by receiver Tramell Terry (committed to Georgia) and defensive end Gerald Turner. Running back Caleb Kinlaw, who leads the team in rushing yards, is just a sophomore.

The Gators have won 13 of 14 games by averaging 48.7 points per game and giving up only 10.8. But Reedy is prouder of these numbers -- last semester, 47 of 69 varsity players made the honor roll.

If the Gators bring back their first state title Saturday, pride in the Creek will only grow.

"People always want to talk about the team and ask me what we're doing in the Creek to get so good," Robinson said. "I just tell them we have a good coach and players who want to play for him."

Reach Jeff Hartsell at 937-5596.