James Brown’s decision was made more than two months ago.
But leaving Waccamaw after 17 years has been much harder than he expected.
Brown, who coached successful runs in both boys and girls tennis at the school, will work his last day Friday before retiring from the South Carolina school system and moving to New Jersey. His wife, Sonja, has accepted a marketing director position for an electronics company that the couple couldn’t pass up.
But while Brown spent Monday packing up much of the rest of his Surfside Beach home, it again hit him.
“At first, I was like ‘I can just walk away and move on to something else,’” he said. “Now, it’s become very difficult for me. We have a great team coming back. But it’s not just that. I’ve known these tennis kids since they were 11 years old.
“It’s a huge opportunity for her. This job came available, and they made an unbelievable offer for her. It’s going to be big for her career.”
As for Brown, he won’t be retiring from coaching and teaching altogether.
Through some connections – primarily those of Waccamaw basketball coach Mike Quinn – Brown said he has already landed a tennis coaching position at the Collegiate School in New York City. He will serve as a substitute teacher until something more permanent comes along.
The employment will take him to the other end of the competitive spectrum from what he had here.
“In tennis, we’ve always battled the private schools, Bishop England and Christ Church,” he said. “It’s sort of like I’m going to the dark side.”
Some of those rivalries with South Carolina’s best private schools set the scene for small-school tennis in recent years. Brown led the Warriors boys team to Class AA state titles in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2012. The boys squad also won the 2010 championship on the court before a disqualification for an ineligible player ultimately awarded it to Christ Church.
Before giving up coaching duties for the girls team in 2010, Brown also led that squad to Class AA state titles in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2009.
Brown was also largely responsible for several players’ individual achievements. Boys players Billy Kenny (2006, 2009), Wesley Moran (2007-2008), Mike Moran (2010) and Harrison Richmond (2012) all won state individual titles. Allison Stanford (2005-2006) and Tolley Rice (2009) did it on the girls side under Brown.
But for all the athletic accomplishments Brown coached, he was starting to become nearly as well-known for his charitable contributions. During the last two summers, Brown rode his bike from Texas to Murrells Inlet and then California to Murrells Inlet as a way to raise funds and awareness for the Ashley G. Foundation.
Ashley Gaines played for Brown from 2004-2006 and died in 2008 from Diffuse Large B Cell Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Her parents started the foundation after her death, and Brown was an immediate contributor.
That won’t stop any time soon.
Brown said he is still putting the finishing touches on this year’s ride, which will take him from Key West, Fla., to Murrells Inlet. Then, in 2014, he’s attempting a ride that will take him from the New York area back here.
“It’s been too good,” Brown said. “We can’t stop this thing now.”
Brown, 52, said he and Sonja have designs of eventually moving back to the area, but that it likely won’t be any time soon. It will be the first time in nearly a quarter century that Brown will not be a part of the area sports scene.
Prior to taking the position at Waccamaw, Brown spent six years at Socastee.
He’s also coached basketball, and he said that is a possibility up north, too.
Either way, Brown will be leaving behind a legacy of winning.
Runyon earns All-America nod
As if Marisa Runyon didn’t have enough of a target on her back, she now has a national honor attached to her already stellar softball career.
The Carolina Forest senior and University of Alabama signee was named to the MaxPreps Softball Preseason All-America first team.
Runyon, who led the Panthers to the Class AAAA state title series last year, inked with the Crimson Tide during November’s early signing period. As a junior, she was named to the All-State team after batting .556 with 40 RBI, 30 runs, 15 doubles, two triples and five home runs. She had a slugging percentage of .975 and committed only three errors all season in the field.
She was named The Sun News’ Toast of the Coast Softball Player of the Year for the 2012 season.
In total, MaxPreps announced 50 high school softball players to the first and second teams, including 34 seniors, 15 juniors and one sophomore. Runyon was one of just two from South Carolina to earn first-team honors.
Carolina Forest was named the No. 3 team in the Class AAAA preseason rankings earlier this month, and the Panthers are expected to again compete for a state title.
Winter sports Toast of the Coast
Nominations for The Sun News’ Toast of the Coast teams for boys and girls basketball and wrestling have been emailed to area athletics directors and coaches. If you have yet to receive these or have questions about the nomination process, please contact Ian Guerin directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The deadline for girls basketball is noon Friday, and the deadlines for boys basketball and wrestling are on Tuesday, March 5.
Contact IAN GUERIN at email@example.com.