David Small never needed much convincing to keep coming back to North Myrtle Beach year after year.
He shifted between sports and teaching positions over the course of the last four decades. But what it all came down to was that he had a hard time walking away from his student-athletes.
“You get these kids who come in and their parents say ‘I hope you stay until they graduate,’” Small said. “And you do, and then there’s another one. It’s a cycle.”
Thirty-eight years after he completed his one year as a student teacher and 35 years after he joined the staff full time, Small is retiring and finishing his final days as the Chiefs’ coach. Most recently, he’s been in charge of the highly decorated boys and girls golf teams.
The boys team won the 1991 Class AA title and then back-to-back Class AAA championships in 2005-2006. North Myrtle Beach was also a three-time state runner-up under Small in 1987, 1992 and 2004. Former player Lawrence Leagens won medalist honors at the 1993 state finals and Trevor Muffley did the same in 2005.
Coaching girls golf, which became a South Carolina High School League sport in 2003, he was instrumental in Lauren Hunt winning the first individual title. Prior to playing for the girls team, she was already a successful player for Smalls’ boys squad.
Small never sat on his team’s laurels, though. He brokered deals to bring multiple state championships to the Grand Strand, doing much of the legwork once they arrived. He also got involved in the North-South All-Star matches and coached last week’s event.
“He has a genuine love for working with high school kids that I haven’t seen since I’ve been here,” North Myrtle Beach Athletics Director Joe Quigley said. “It was never about glory or doing it for himself.
“Needless to say, our golf program flourished, not only at North Myrtle Beach, but in the state of South Carolina.”
Oddly, coaching golf wasn’t originally in the cards for Small.
After playing football and/or golf at Lees-McRae (then a junior college), Shippensburg (Penn.) and Coastal Carolina, he coached football for two seasons at Lees-McRae.
In 1980, he returned to Little River, also as a football coach. He eventually also spent time leading the Chiefs’ basketball and softball programs and assisted those even after merging into golf.
Quigley said his son, Ryan – now a punter with the New York Jets – gained the necessary confidence as a freshman working with Small’s football special teams unit to improve enough to earn the starting spot, and eventually one at Boston College.
Stories like that are abundant.
Hunt, now Lauren Fournier, followed her 2005 graduation from North Myrtle Beach by having a successful college career at North Carolina and then played three years professionally. Now the executive director and spokesperson for MyGolf, she’s continued regular conversations with Small.
“He was definitely good to me,” Fournier said. “We’ve had a relationship even since I left. He used to come every year to watch me play in the Tar Heel Invitational at UNC as a college athlete. He traveled to a couple tour events and saw me play. He’s always been a big supporter of mine. I don’t think a lot of high school coaches can say that. He was in it for the long haul – not just the four years of high school golf.”
Sam Lyons, who went on to a career at Coastal Carolina, echoed the feelings of a coach going above and beyond.
“Couldn’t have had a better coach,” Lyons said via text Thursday. “I was with him for six years and each year he helped me grow as a golfer and mature into a better person. He would always be there for me whenever I needed. Whether [it was to] caddy 36 holes in the pouring rain or just someone to talk to. I would hope my kids can be lucky enough to have a coach like that growing up.”
Small first told The Sun News he was retiring in November. However, he said he didn’t want to become the story or overshadow anything his players accomplished between then and now.
With yet another respectable finish in the boys Class AAA state tournament and his final run for the North-South All-Star matches completed, Small is preparing to return to Lees-McRae, although he’s not sure in which capacity.
He’ll depart North Myrtle Beach with a large number of former students-athletes who hold him in the highest regard.
And a mutual feeling the other direction.
“That’s probably the hardest thing,” Small said. “You look at all the championships. But how did you get to the point to win those championships? You get these kids when they’re eighth- and ninth-graders and you watch them grow. I’d probably have to be hypnotized to remember them all.”
Contact IAN GUERIN at email@example.com.