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WHS football coach calls it a career
By Charles Swenson
Burney Bourne started wrestling with the decision to retire at the end of the football season. Friends told him, “when you have to think this long about it, it’s time.”
But all that time didn’t prepare him to break the news to his players. “I struggled with it,” he said.
Bourne wasn’t sure he would make it through last week’s meeting with the Warriors to announce his retirement without breaking down. Neither were the players.
“If he’d started to cry, so would we,” said Alex Burdette, a junior.
This wasn’t Bourne’s first farewell. He was head coach at Cheraw for 22 seasons, and won two state AAA championships, before he and his family moved to the coast.
“Talking to the kids was very emotional for me,” Bourne said. “That’s what I’m going to miss the most, the bond you build with your kids.”
That bond is also what the players will miss.
“It’s the way he carries himself on the field,” said Ivan Reid, one of 16 seniors on this year’s team. “His determination. He wants to make you better.”
Tyler Bailey, a junior lineman, said “Coach Bourne has inspired us to be competitive.”
Bourne has coached football for 35 years, starting as an assistant at Cheraw. He was inducted into the S.C. Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2008.
As he contemplated his own retirement, he recalled some advice from Harold Snipes, the principal who hired him and became his mentor. “Don’t stay in this business too long,” Snipes said. “After 35 years, I understand what he was talking about.”
Football is no longer a seasonal sport. Outside the season there is spring training, summer camps and weight training. From August to November, it’s a 30- to 40-hour job in addition to teaching, Bourne said.
“I can feel it,” said Bourne, 57. “My energy level’s going down.”
At the same time, enthusiasm for Waccamaw football has never been stronger.
Bourne was only the third head football coach at Waccamaw when he was hired in 2004. He had been assistant to James Brown for a year, and coached for two years at Socastee before coming to Waccamaw.
The Warriors had gone 38 games with only one win on the field. Ruth McLellan, principal at the time, was debating whether to scrap the program or cut back to junior varsity for two years.
“If you drop it, you’ll never be able to start it back,” Bourne told McLellan.
He was hired from a field of 12 applicants, and started out reviving the JV team and building up the numbers on varsity.
“In the long term, it’s like anything else,” Bourne said. “It’s a numbers game. You’ve got to get kids out.”
The 5-foot-3, 90-pound eighth-grader is likely to blossom into a 6-3, 250-pound senior. “You don’t ever know,” Bourne said.
With growing enrollments, he’s tried to get 20 to 25 players in each class.
Bailey said he’s heard from many prospective B-team and JV players who want to come out. “I’ve talked to some huge freshmen,” he said. He and Burdette said they believe the enthusiasm will continue, though they are disappointed Bourne won’t be there for their senior season.
“Coach Bourne has turned the program around,” Bailey said. “Waccamaw football has changed.”
Bourne said he told the team after their loss to Cheraw in the playoffs last year that the underclassmen needed to keep the program moving forward. “We’ve raised the bar,” he said.
Last year’s team was “very respectable,” Bourne said, picking up key wins over Socastee and St. James. “We haven’t gotten to the elite level, but we’re getting close.”
The large number of graduates means the Warriors are likely to struggle some next season, Bourne said.
But he said he recently heard from a man who is moving to the area from Charleston where his son quarterbacks for a private school.
“You can see this starting to snowball,” Bourne said.
And with junior Jerome Maybank already getting scholarship offers from Division I colleges, Waccamaw football is only going to attract more interest.
“That’s why it’s a good time for me to back off,” Bourne said. “Waccamaw football will roll on. That’s what I want.”
The gravel in Burney Bourne’s deep baritone drawl is like the gravel on a stream bed that’s been washed smooth over the course of geological time.
It’s a voice that people like to imitate.
But it isn’t how he says it, it’s what he says that really catches the ear of coaches and players.
“He always has a saying about every aspect of life whether it’s coaching football or just life in general,” said Jimmy Bailey, an assistant coach.
Everyone has a favorite Bourne-ism.
“The tail don’t wag the dog, boys,” is the favorite of Alex Burdette, a junior wide receiver.
“This ain’t my first rodeo,” is Bailey’s favorite.
“It’s always easier to get up the next day when you win,” is also popular.
Tyler Bailey, a junior lineman who is no relation to the coach, said he will remember Bourne’s dislike for certain expressions.
He said he made a mistake on the field in one game and compounded it when he ran to the sideline and told Bourne, “My bad.”
“My bad?” Bourne said. “My bad? It’s my bad for putting you in the game.”
Cory Hendrix, a senior linebacker, said you could always gauge Bourne’s mood by the state of his hat.
“You always know you’re in trouble when he throws that hat,” he said.