SUMMERVILLE, S.C. - Maybe this is finally the time, the world's loneliest football widow thought this week.
Joan McKissick had long ago given up serious hope her husband would leave his job of 52 years as Summerville High's football coach. But with an unprecedented 500 victories in reach, she'd again try and persuade him to abandon the game he's succeeded at like no one else.
"I asked him, 'Don't you think this is the perfect time to quit?"' she said an hour after the Green Wave defeated Wando 34-17 for McKissick's milestone win Friday night. "He said, 'Oh, I don't know about that. I'll let you know when I know.' And that's all I got out of him."
The community and the high school and generations of players have gotten so much more the past 52 years.
McKissick stands at 500-119-13. That's more than 100 wins ahead of his closest active rival, John T. Curtis Jr. of John Curtis Christian School in River Ridge, La. Curtis had 394 wins in 34 seasons heading into this week.
The celebration was immense. McKissick was quickly carried to midfield amid the cheers of fans at a packed John McKissick Field. Fireworks filled the sky in the town about 30 minutes northwest of Charleston.
"You have to live in Summerville to know how special this place is," said McKissick, who turns 77 on Sept. 25.
He was given a commemorative ring and lithograph honoring his teams, which have won 10 state titles and had seven undefeated seasons through the years.
His players and assistant coaches - a few who've been with him at least 30 years - received medals with the green Summerville helmet and T-shirts saying, "I played in Coach McKissick's 500th win." Posters, toy gold footballs and bumper stickers honoring the all-time football wins leader on any level were handed out.
"How cool is this?" said Matt Vaughn, Summerville's quarterback.
How cool indeed.
It seemed as if everyone who ever played for or coached with McKissick turned out for this one.
Keith Jennings played on three consecutive state title teams at Summerville from 1982-84, then at Clemson before going to the NFL. "I played for him, for Danny Ford, Jimmy Johnson and Mike Ditka. You make the comparisons there. All those guys are winners," Jennings said.
McKissick's success comes in large part from successfully relating to his players. He preaches discipline and doing things right. That's never changed or been questioned much, says McKissick.
"That's the reason he's done this," quarterback Vaughn said, pointing to the cheering crowd.
Among Jennings memories were of his prep coach, old enough then to be his grandpa, going crazy if a player jumped offsides. "He didn't put up with nothing," Jennings said. "He still doesn't."
McKissick became the all-time victories leader in 1993, also against Wando. The 42-0 victory over the Warriors a decade ago gave McKissick his 406th win, surpassing the record of Gordon Wood of Texas.
His regimen has barely slowed down since, says grandson Joe Call. Call was a Summerville quarterback and now helps out the Green Wave offense. "He's got so much energy," Call said. "When he finishes practice, he works in the garden."
McKissick is happy he can return to his routine. "There has been a lot of talk about 500 for a long time. But I was worried about 498 and 499 as well," he said. "Now, I'll worry about 501."
Joan McKissick had no doubts about that.
"We'll celebrate tonight," she said. "But tomorrow it'll be all about West Ashley," Summerville's next opponent. "That's how it's always been."
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