By J. Daniel Rollins
Register-Herald Sports Writer
After nearly 600 games, it’s time to holster the Pistol.
James “Pistol” Payne, the longtime coach of the Summers County Bobcats, has decided to hang up his whistle after 26 seasons.
“I always said I would do it as long as it was fun,” Payne said. “Well, 26 years later, it’s still fun.”
Payne may still be having fun, but the 63-year-old coach feels it’s time to step down.
“I’m just a little tired,” he said with a laugh.
Payne first came to Hinton with a friend as an assistant coach 27 years ago. After one season, his friend left to go to Virginia, leaving Payne with a tough decision to make.
“I really didn’t want the job at first,” he said. “But the principal and the athletic director asked ne to apply and I was the only applicant.”
It helped fulfill a dream that the coach had early in his life.
“I was a freshman in college when I realized I wanted to be a high school basketball coach,” Payne said. “I consider myself a very lucky man to get to do what I did for 26 years. I’m lucky.”
While Payne’s career record may be below .500 and he never made a trip to the state tournament in Charleston, his impact on the game and Summers County have been and will continue to be felt for a long time to come.
“Early in my career I worked as an assistant to him,” Summers County athletic director and girls coach Wayne Ryan said. “He was an excellent teacher of the game. I think throughout his career there have been many years when he’s had to work with less talent than many of the teams he’s had to beat. He did a masterful job of game planning to give his team the most chance to win.”
One such game, as Payne recalled, was a battle against Princeton where the Bobcats were outmatched in just about every aspect of the game.
“We had a game plan,” Payne said. “We walked out of the locker room and I looked at my assistant and said, ‘Let’s hold this baby.’ We scored 56 points just holding the ball and beat them 56-54.”
Payne has a reputation for having a personality as colorful as Hinton in the fall, but it’s his love and appreciation for his players that will make him a legend.
“I don’t lie to my players. I don’t like to lie,” Payne said. “People say I’m crazy. I say I’m not crazy, I just tell it like it is. I don’t stay mad but for 30 seconds. After 30 seconds, I’ve moved on to something else.”
“It’s been a lot of fun, coaching these kids. I think that’s a special thing,” Payne continued. “I think the thing that means the most to me is lately I’ve got to coach some boys like T.J. Smith and TaRon Ayers. I coached their dads. Those things mean a lot to me. That’s really a special thing. I’ve coached some good players and it’s really special to coach their children.”
“I always wanted to play for coach Payne,” Ayers said. “He coached my dad and it’s special for me to play for him, too. I love coach.”
Now that Payne has decided to retire from coaching, it may be time for him to move on to his next calling in life: public office.
“I’ve been giving some thought to running for the Board of Education,” Payne said.
He also may volunteer some time to helping another generation of Bobcats.
“Nate Tanner coaches our middle school team and I have talked to him that I may go down and help him some,” Payne added. “That school is about 60 yards from my house. I told him I’ll come and help, but I don’t want any more school bus rides.”
Still, filling the shoes of the larger than life Payne may be easier said than done.
“He’s been an icon for so long,” Ryan said. “He’s associated so strongly with our program. It’s going to be very strange seeing someone else leading the program. He’s done a commendable job and left his stamp on the program.”
While there may be others interested in the job, Pistol has his own pick for who he hopes to see follow him.
“I really hope my assistant (Robert Bowling) will become head coach,” Payne said. “I’ve known him since he was 9 years old. He went to all our camps. He went away and came back to coach elementary basketball and then we got him teaching at the high school. To see a young man like Robert Bowling becoming a head coach would be a special thing to me.”
— Email: jrollins@
register-herald.com and follow on Twitter at @JDanielRollins.