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Summerville mourns John McKissick, winningest coach of all time

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Legendary football coach John McKissick was laid to rest at Summerville Cemetery on Monday.

McKissick, who served as the head coach for the Green Wave Football program for 63 seasons before retiring in 2015, died at home under hospice care Nov. 28 at the age of 93. He was buried in the emerald-green casket with gold handles that he picked out.

During the funeral service at Bethany United Methodist Church McKissick’s granddaughter, Kyle McElveen York, offered words of remembrance. She shared stories about visits with her grandfather and painted the picture of a man who cared as much about people as he did football.

“We should all feel lucky to have had such an amazing man in our lives,” she said. “There is so much about him I will always cherish, his smile, all those ball caps and his sayings. … He considered his kids his greatest success and found joy in family. He taught us so many valuable lessons about life and asked nothing in return.”

Donnie McElveen, one of Mckissick’s grandsons who played football for the coach, also offered words of remembrance.

“What made him special is when faced with the impossible he saw opportunity,” the grandson said. “He served his players’ hearts. He gave us individual goals as well as team goals and established a culture of excellence. … He taught us when something isn’t easy you have to be tough, physically and mentally. The confidence and passion he instilled in us was unparalleled.”

Other speakers included Rev. Mark Barnes, Rev. Seth Buckley and Rev. Mitch Houston, who talked about McKissick’s renowned since of humor and strong faith.

McKissick accepted the job as the head coach of the Summerville High School football team in 1952. As a Green Wave coach, he won 621 football games, which is a national record, and led the Green Wave to 10 state football championships. Beginning with the 1982-83 school year, he won three Class AAAA, Division 1 state titles in a row. His other state championship seasons came during the 55-56, 56-57, 69-70, 78-79, 79-80, 86-87 and 98-99 school years.

McKissick sent countless players off to the college ranks over the years, including Kentril White. While at Florida State University he played for another legendary coach, Bobby Bowden.

“Playing for Coach McKissick there was always a great environment,” White said. “He was a great coach who knew the Xs and Os of football inside and out. Learning the fundamentals of football from him and later playing for Coach Bowden have both been a blessing to me.”

After his days at Florida State, McKissick added White to the Summerville coaching staff.

“I’ve always believed in paying it forward so I wanted to teach all the lessons I learned to others and make sure they realize football is bigger than just the game so I appreciate him helping me do that,” White said. “Coach McKissick taught us to be aggressive and hard-nosed and the importance of studying the game so you can anticipate what your opponent is about to do. You look at every positon across the board searching for tendencies and trends. Those things help me a lot in my coaching career.”

The players McKissick helped reach the NFL ranks include A.J. Green, Kevin Long, Ian Rafferty, Stanford Jennings, Keith Jennings and Zack Bailey.

McKissick influenced not only the lives of countless athletes, but also other students and coaches. That influence extended beyond the walls of the school, reaching deep into the Summerville community.

“Coach McKissick has always had a standard he holds all his players to,” Bo Blanton, a Green Wave quarterback from 1974-76, said during a 2012 interview following McKissick’s 600th coaching victory. “He requires you to perform on the field, but he also expects you to represent your high school and community in a manner everyone can be proud of. Just look at the things his former players such as Converse Chellis, George Tupper and Harry Blake moved on to do for their community and state.”

Prior to coming to Summerville, McKissick served as a paratrooper for the U.S. Army and earned a degree from Presbyterian College. His first coaching job was at Clarkton High in North Carolina, but after only one season there Summerville High School hired him.