Hall of Fame Coach honored by former Winnsboro Wildcats

Former Winnsboro Wildcat players gathered in Ridgeway over the weekend to celebrate their Hall of Fame basketball coach, Eddie Raines. The reunion, a surprise for the coach, was a way to celebrate the impact Raines had on his players’ lives. | Contributed

WININSBORO – It was everything one could wish for in a reunion of high school basketball players and their beloved coach – like a movie, one that brought it all back in the most heartwarming way.

The reunion started coming together earlier this summer when several former Winnsboro High School basketball players – Carl Kennedy, David Seibles, Michael Squirewell and others – learned their high school basketball coach Eddie Raines had been inducted into to the South Carolina Coaches Association Hall of Fame last March.

The former teammates began calling other former teammates to plan a surprise reunion to honor their former coach who had spent a combined 17 years (1968 – 1976 and 1977 – 1986) coaching basketball at their alma mater, Winnsboro High School.

When Raines and his wife Eunice arrived at a covered party patio at Oakbrook Farm in Ridgeway last Saturday with their sons Kevin and Barry for what they thought was a party for their grands, about 50 of Raines’ former players lined up across the patio and shouted in unison, “1-2-3 Wildcats! 1-2-3 Wildcats!” just as they had done when they broke huddle on Raines’ court in high school.

Recovering from his shock and surprise of seeing so many of his players, now grown men, Raines pointed across the room, and shouted sternly, “Ok, guys, get on the baseline!” Just like old times. Everyone laughed and swarmed around him.

After hugging and visiting, one by one, the players came to the front of the room to recall memories of their high school years with Raines and to testify how this one coach, and even his wife, had changed their lives.

They recalled how he believed in them and wanted the best for them just as a parent would. He coached them the years before, during and after the desegregation of their school – and they grew to see him as a father figure.

“I remember when I injured my shoulder,” Curtis Dunbar recalled, “my parents were out of town and you took me to the hospital, then brought me home to your house and put me in with your boys and I spent the night with them. You were always there for us. I love you Coach,” Dunbar said as he walked over and hugged Raines.

James Pearson talked about how he came out of poverty and credits Raines with setting him on the path to succeed. Pearson pointed proudly to his own children’s college education and said Raines gave him the courage and confidence he needed to get where he is.

Tim Hopkins talked about how he saw his future as nothing special when, his junior year, Coach Raines informed him he would be going to college on a sports scholarship. Today, Hopkins is the Assistant Superintendent of Schools in Kershaw County and on the board of Fairfield Electric Coop. He was blunt as he spoke.

‘I owe it all to you, Coach.”

As they talked and remembered, each player recalled the feeling of family that they say Raines created for the team. They talked about the cookouts at his house, their trips to the beach, and just hanging out after practice talking with him.

“If we were in town and Mrs. Raines saw one of us, she would always ask if we needed a ride,” Carl Kennedy recalled. “And she would drive us home.”

After more than an hour of walking down memory lane, the former team members presented Raines with a gift – a pair of white Converse gym shoes they had all signed. That was the only kind of shoe he would let them play in back then, they recalled.

Coach Eddie Raines and his wife, Eunice, admire the autographed Converse sneakers gifted to him by his former players. | Contributed

There were endless jokes and heartfelt memories throughout the afternoon.

“It was fun when we played for Coach Raines, but it was tough,” Kennedy recalled. “The rules! We were probably the first high school team in South Carolina that had a curfew – 11 p.m. He would call our houses every night to be sure we were home. He had a whole network of our parents who helped him.”

For his part, Raines said he is blessed to have coached them all.

“This reunion was as good as the induction into the Hall of Fame,” he said. “It meant the world to me.”

Through those 17 years at Winnsboro High, there were two trips to the state championship, and many other wins and honors – all wonderful memories for the players and their coach. Kennedy recalled that Raines’ teams could hold their own against any team.

“We were good,” he said. “But Coach made us more than a team.”

“Of all we accomplished and what we did,” Raines said in an interview with The Voice, “the warmest thing I think I’ve ever felt, was when I saw them Saturday, and they all still called me Coach.”

Stanley Seibles, Alan (Reb) Watkins, and David Seibles

Contact us: (803) 767-5711 | P.O. Box 675, Blythewood, SC 29016 | [email protected]