WHITMIRE — Ken Coleman might have grown up in Ware Shoals but Whitmire is where he calls home and where he has coached and influenced three generations of student athletes.
In football, he had the highest career winning percentage, led the Wolverines to four conference champions and had one Upper State championship, among other accolades. In basketball, he is third in most career wins and in golf he led the team to back-to-back state championships.
Coleman was honored during halftime at the Sept. 13 football game along with two other coaches — the late Irby Raines and William “Lefty” Johnson — as legends. Coleman’s legend includes coaching football, boys and girls basketball, golf and track.
Coleman, who coached from 1960 to 1988, humbly thanked the athletes for doing their job.
“I’m more proud of the successful people than my accolades,” said Coleman, who added someone told him he coached more than 2,000 student athletes. “I hope I’ve given back half as much as what they’ve given me.”
Coleman and his wife are both from Ware Shoals where Coleman said they were high school sweethearts. Coleman played all kinds of sports growing up, which he said contributed to his love for coaching.
Coleman, who came to Whitmire in 1960, said a big reason he decided to stay in Whitmire is because it reminded him of his hometown.
“Whitmire reminded me of Ware Shoals with the textile plant,” he said. “We became close with the community and students. We got involved with First Baptist Church. The opportunity never arose that I wanted to go anywhere. We are extremely close to the families here.”
After graduating from high school, Coleman went to the University of South Carolina where he studied physical education and minored in social studies. He went into the Air Force for a year but then he returned for his bachelor’s degree.
Ten years later, he received his master’s degree from Western Carolina in school administration and later got his master’s in education degree from Winthop.
In addition to coaching, Coleman also was principal at Park Street Elementary in Whitmire, which no longer exists. He retired in 1988.
Even though he studied physical education and was enthusiastic about sports, it wasn’t until one of his friends in the Air Force asked him to coach a women’s basketball team on base that his interest in coaching was born.
“I came back (from the Air Force) and decided that’s what I wanted to be,” he said.
When asked what he likes about Whitmire, one of the biggest positives he cites are the students.
“The biggest thrill I get (out of Whitmire) is seeing what these young boys and girls grow up to be. I do keep in contact with them, especially on the golf course,” said Coleman. “I get a thrill when I see that someone’s done an outstanding job or their kids or grandkids.”
But it’s not just the athletes that give him pride. What the athletes become after their academic and athletic careers also counts for a lot. “I’m more proud of the successful people than my accolades,” he said.
Coleman said he didn’t just try to talk to talk. He also wanted to walk the walk especially when it came to coaching or being an administrator.
“They say I was a good disciplinarian,” he said. “I’m blessed that they say I was a positive influence. I really try to set a good example.”
Despite retirement and no longer coaching, Coleman still supports the Wolverines.
“I still go to all the games at Whitmire. I try to support all of them and I belong to the Booster Club. I haven’t missed a game since 1961 and I feel like I just need to support the kids even after I retire,” said Coleman.
One of the biggest pluses to coaching has given him something he knows he wouldn’t have gotten somewhere else: coaching three generations of families. “You just don’t get that at a big school,” he said.