MONCKS CORNER — South Carolina high school baseball coaching legend Jerry Stoots died Jan. 24 in a boating accident on Lake Moultrie, Berkeley County authorities and a family member confirmed.
The bodies of Stoots, 75, of Goose Creek, and Lee Watkins, 68, of North Charleston, were found floating in the lake near an unoccupied boat, the coroner's office reported.
The coroner’s office received a call just before 2 p.m. from a nearby resident in Pinopolis who had spotted one of the bodies, according a report. Authorities arrived to find another body floating nearby.
Stoots is the all-time winningest high school baseball coach in South Carolina history, with more than 925 career wins at three Lowcountry-area schools over 48 seasons.
Stoots and Watkins were good friends and longtime fishing and hunting partners. Their relationship began as fellow teachers in the late 1970s.
Stoots won more than 600 games at Stall High in North Charleston, guiding the Warriors to the 1985 Class AAA state championship.
After a brief retirement, Stoots took over the program at Northwood Academy, winning 261 games at the private school in Summerville. The Chargers were five-time state runners-up in the S.C. Independent Schools Association Class AAA.
Stoots served as the first head coach at Oceanside Collegiate Academy, starting the Mount Pleasant program in 2017. His 2021 team won the Class AAA Lower State championship before losing in the state championship series.
Stoots was not retained after the 2021 season, but the program he built went on to win the Class AAA state championship last season.
Stoots also served several seasons as the head football coach at Stall. The 1991 Warriors played for the Class AAA state championship, losing to Daniel High.
“We lost a great coach but an even better man,” said Kenny Wilkinson, a 1976 graduate of Stall who played football and baseball under Stoots. “He was a builder of programs and a winner. He built the program at Oceanside from scratch. He did the same thing with football at Northwood. A lot of people don’t realize the impact he had on so many young guys who later got into coaching, helping him coach. He was always giving guys opportunities and he took care of his players all through life.
“I will cherish the memories and all of the conversations that we have had over the years. Conversations outside of baseball, just talks about life and what was going on in our lives. He had a tremendous impact on my life as a young man and his impact continued all through the years. I am going to miss him.”
Phil Tobin played for Stoots at Stall, graduating in 1987 before playing at The Citadel, as did several of Stoots' players.
“It was such a privilege to play for him, coach with him and coach against him,” Tobin said. “He was an amazing coach, but more importantly he was a great friend and mentor. The game of baseball and the kids he touched are better because of him. We lost a true legend.”
Mike Branham, a 1986 graduate of Stall, served as an assistant coach under Stoots for many years at Stall and Northwood Academy.
“He became a father figure, someone who I could look up to, respect and admire,” Branham said. “He would have me over to eat, take me fishing and pull me aside to make sure I was doing what I needed to do in the classroom. He was everything a teenaged boy needed whose father wasn’t in the home.
“The one constant was his love for the game. He loved the process and he loved the kids. Being able to spend 30 years with him in this environment, learning from his example, had the greatest impact on me. I love and will miss this man for the rest of my life.”
Jay Morgan is a 1996 graduate of Stall who went on to play at The Citadel, and also spent some time as an assistant coach under Stoots. His relationship with Stoots began when Morgan was a young batboy at Stall games and continued through his days as a player.
“His lessons of life and baseball will stay with everyone throughout our lifetimes,” Morgan said. “He meant a great deal to a lot of young men, myself included. He stuck to his values in the way that he coached and taught us young men how to play the game of baseball.”
Stoots was inducted into the S.C. Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2008. He was inducted into the S.C. Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2017 and into the Charleston Baseball Hall of Fame the following year.
The Berkeley County Corner's Office and the S.C. Dept. of Natural Resources are investigating with assistance from local agencies.
Investigators estimate the men were in the water for a short amount of time, authorities reported. An autopsy has been scheduled for Jan. 26 to determine the cause and manner of death.
Isabelle Altman contributed to this report.