What makes Marion County thrive? Coaches who care

By JOSHUA CAMPBELL,

Editor's Note: Sports Editor Joshua Campbell posed questions to longtime coaches at each of Marion County’s four high schools about why they love their profession and what it means to them to work with young people.

Brad Duncan, West Marion High School head football coach: 34 years experience

Q: Why do you coach and how did you get into it?

A: I went about it the long way around. I went to USM and knew I wanted to be a coach ever since I was in the 10th grade. I had some good coaches in high school, and that’s how I knew that’s what I always wanted to be. But it took me a long time to get there. I started in 1975 and graduated in ’97. I was in sales for a lot of years doing different things, and I thought I was happy. I kept coaching peewee football and was a volunteer at Columbia Academy, and I got a chance to go back to finish school and have enjoyed it ever since. I really believe that anything to do with education, whether it’s teaching or coaching, has to be a calling. It has to be something that’s in your heart. The first coaching class I ever took I’ll never forget the instructor saying, “If you can live without it, go and do something else.” You have to do it for the passion, the love and to try to make a difference in kids’ lives. If you’re a competitor it’s the closest you can get without being a player anymore.

 

Q: What is the greatest reward of coaching?

A: Something that stands out to me is watching kids grow up from junior high to high school to becoming young men. You watch them mature and become better people. Another thing that makes my world is when former players come back by or give you a call and just want to talk. That’s very rewarding to have them come back after years of being gone.

 

Q: What is the biggest challenge of being a coach?

A: The biggest challenge is parents. You hear people say all the time that kids have changed and kids are different, but I’ve been doing it a long time. Kids are no different. Whatever expectations you set for them or whatever you make them do, it’s the same. What is a lot different is with social media, but the kids are still kids. But you have parents asking, “Why is my kid not playing here? Why is my son not getting reps?” They’re a lot more vocal with it now, and that’s the biggest challenge now.

 

Q: What do you wish the general public understood about coaching?

A: Why should they come when I’m trying to do my job — I understand they paid their money to come to the game — but why do they come and know all the right answers all the time? “We should have run this play or that play or should have played this kid at this spot.” What if we reversed that and I was to go to their job and tell them how to do their job. They wouldn’t allow that. It’s not the majority of them, but it’s a handful of people that are there just to criticize. They wouldn’t like that if I came to their jobs and did that.

 

Q: What is one story that is a perfect example of why you love coaching?

A: I’m really big of all the time telling my kids that I love them. In about 2006 or 2007, there was one kid that would always look at me funny when I would say that like, “Why is this dude telling me he loves me?” One night I’m getting onto him at a game after he made a bonehead play, and out of the blue after I get through chewing him out he says, “Coach, I love you, too.” It was the first time he had ever said that. But that’s what it’s all about. It’s about building a relationship, enjoying the journey together and watching them grow up to become young men. That’s the joy of it.

Charlie James, Columbia High School head basketball coach: 17 years experience, 1 South State Championship in basketball at Bassfield, 1 State Championship in track at Bassfield

 

Q: Why do you coach and how did you get into it?

A: I like the game for one, and I always admired other coaches. Growing up I had a lot of coaches that I wanted to follow in their footsteps.

 

Q: What is the greatest reward of coaching?

A: Seeing all the hard work you put in lead to the kids having success. Some of the stuff you talk about and work on, and you see that light go off where you can see they get what you’re saying and have success at what they’ve worked on. That’s one of the biggest rewards.

 

Q: What is the biggest challenge of being a coach?

A: The biggest challenge would be getting them to buy in from year to year. Kids are different and just trying to get all of their personalities to gel together for one common goal.

 

Q: What do you wish the general public understood about coaching?

A: How much time, effort and care we put in. There’s a lot of hard work that goes into it, and it’s more than what you see on game day. There’s a lot of hard work and dedication that coaches put in on a day-to-day basis.

 

Q: What is one story that is a perfect example of why you love coaching?

A: One of the things is when you see former players in their everyday lives and some of them have gone on to coach or are doing other things in life. They come back and talk about memories that they had while they were playing for you. It’s always good to see them move on and become productive citizens. N

Mandell Echols, East Marion High School head baseball and volleyball coach: 18 years experience

 

Q: Why do you coach and how did you get into it?

A: It started out with a passion and a love of the game for baseball. After my time passed as a player, just being able to help the kids out and give them more knowledge and practice to get to that next level is something I enjoy. I want to be the guy that helps them get there.

 

Q: What is the greatest reward of coaching?

A: My greatest reward is seeing a kid grow up. What I mean is using sports to teach them values of life. You seem them grow being childish and playful to having pride in what they do and take ownership of their actions. That’s one of the greatest things, seeing a kid mature.

 

Q: What is the biggest challenge of being a coach?

A: The environment that you’re in and getting past what the kids and parents deem important. In some areas they put emphasis on baseball, but if you’re coaching football or basketball it’s lacking. Then there are some aspects where there is more emphasis on football and basketball, and baseball is lacking. That’s a challenge. You’re trying to get them to have that same type of desire you have instead of them coming out and playing just because it’s something to do.

 

Q: What do you wish the general public understood about coaching?

A: Just because your child is on the team doesn’t mean they’re the greatest player. Understand that nobody is trying to mess up or lose a game. So if you’re losing and not playing to the expectations the community thinks you should be playing at, you’re not trying to lose. The other team has done the same thing; they’ve practiced and worked at it, too. They’ve done the same things you have, and anybody can lose any given day.

 

Q: What is one story that is a perfect example of why you love coaching?

A: There are two things that really make me feel good about coaching. A kid that I had when he was younger that was just playful and didn’t take anything serious, and after he graduated he came back and told me how much he appreciated me helping him become a man. He’s taking care of his child and his responsibilities and has a good job. That feels good that he became a productive citizen because people were writing him off since he stayed in trouble when he wasn’t playing sports. Every sports season he stayed right at that level of not getting in trouble so he could play. He realized he had to stay at that level to become a real productive citizen. The other one was when Jarveon Howard was in middle school and we were talking to the kids about what they want when they graduate. He took it to heart and started working out religiously as a seventh and eighth-grader, and you saw his work ethic just build. He ended up getting a scholarship to Syracuse University, and that made me feel good. He embraced what every coach said and accomplished what was available to him. He defined who Jarveon Howard was and molded himself around what every coach told him.

Dale Watts, Columbia Academy head basketball coach: 45 years experience, 1 State Championship and 2 Overall Championships at Parklane Academy, 7 State Championships at Brookhaven Academy, 2 South State Championships at CA

 

Q: Why do you coach and how did you get into it?

A: I always knew I wanted to coach. I grew up loving basketball and there was never any doubt. When I went to college, I knew what I wanted to do and there was never a second thought.

 

Q: What is the greatest reward of coaching?

A: The older I’ve gotten the greatest reward is when I see my students and see what they become in life. I’ve coached a lot of kids, and they’re not only mommas and daddies now but they’re grandmas and grandpas. I’ve got doctors, lawyers, teachers, ditch diggers and housemates, and I’m as proud of every one of them as I can be. The one thing that is the most rewarding is that kid who is a problem when he’s in school when you’re coaching him, and 15 years down the road you get a letter in the mail. It’s been girls and guys, but you get a letter in the mail one day that says, “Thank you, coach. I didn’t understand at the time, but now I do.” That’s my biggest reward.

 

Q: What is the biggest challenge of being a coach?

A: I’m old school so my challenge today is to get kids to work hard enough. I think basketball is the hardest game because other sports you stop and regroup, but basketball is continuous and just like life. It doesn’t stop for whatever happens, whether it’s good or bad. So the challenge is to get kids to work hard and to work through it. It’s harder now than it was 20 years ago.

 

Q: What do you wish the general public understood about coaching?

A: I’m not a theologian, but Socrates said, “Be true to thine own self.” What I want people to understand is I have to do what I think is best and yet I have to be knowledgeable about what I’m doing. The biggest thing most people don’t understand is I have a plan. I don’t have the same plan for every team. I plan for every team according to their needs and the competition that we’re playing. The challenge is getting people to understand that. They don’t understand what you’re trying to accomplish most of the time, but the kids do. It’s hard for the average onlooker to see that.

 

Q: What is one story that is a perfect example of why you love coaching?

A: When I first started coaching and I would have a kid who didn’t have a lot of talent, but he or she had a desire to be really good and wanted to play the game. Then I would have a kid who everything was easy for him playing the game and didn’t have to work but could just naturally play. Yet he didn’t want to work hard because it was so easy and didn’t know how to work. I’ve always said I want to ask Saint Peter, “Why would you give this kid talent who doesn’t give a rip, doesn’t understand what he’s got and doesn’t use what he’s got when you have this other kid that wants it so bad and doesn’t have it?” Here’s my story. I didn’t have to wait to ask Saint Peter, and it took me about 20 years to figure it out. I guarantee nine out of 10 times the kid that lacks the talent but had to work, he often was the more successful person in life because he knew how to work for it. n