USC Gamecocks Football

He scored TD in USC’s first bowl game, was successful coach and much more

Bobby Giles was a legendary coach at old Olympia High School, a football standout at USC, a tail gunner during World War II, and for many years the best known person in the Olympia Mill community.
Bobby Giles was a legendary coach at old Olympia High School, a football standout at USC, a tail gunner during World War II, and for many years the best known person in the Olympia Mill community. gmelendez@thestate.com

He scored the Gamecocks’ first postseason touchdown, coached high school teams to 623 victories, played and coached in the Shrine Bowl, earned membership into the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame and the South Carolina Coaches Hall of Fame, flew on 35 bombing missions during World War II, served his church in mission work and his community in ways most never knew and ... the list is endless.

Yet, if anyone waited for Bobby Giles to brag about his achievements, both in and out of the arena of athletics, they would wait in vain.

Giles, synonymous with the Olympia community and school, died Thursday at age 93, and those who knew him and learned the lessons of life from him know the area is better that he passed this way.

“I have lost a hero,” Bobby Giles Jr., one of Bobby Sr. and Gloria Giles’ five children, said Friday, and the countless others who felt his touch at old Olympia High no doubt share that thought.

Giles is among the last of a vanishing breed, a throwback to the days kids played all sports and high school athletics departments consisted of a couple of coaches. In his case, he and George Martin and administrator Bill Simpson issued equipment, maintained the fields and took care of the coaching duties.

“Tough,” Giles Jr., said in describing his dad’s coaching style. He laughs and said he told his dad, “I can’t play for you; I’m going to play for Pinkerton (the late Jim Pinkerton, a former Marine with a drill instructor style on the field) at Flora.”

Memories flow at times like these, and the Olympia-University High basketball games featuring Giles and the Red Devils against Cy Szakacsi and the Bantams are treasures. The coaches had played together at USC, but friendship took a holiday in their competition.

“What a great competitor he and his teams were,” Szakacsi, 95, said Friday. “We had some great games.”

“As they got older, they mellowed,” Giles Jr. said, “but back in the day, their games were wars.”

People know about his multisport career in high school and at USC, and about the games he coached and the titles his teams won, of course, but there was far more to Bobby Giles Sr., educator and servant.

The five kids blossomed into 21 grandchildren and 61 great-grandchildren. The crowd at their home on Thanksgiving Day ranged upward to 30.

“We’d be in line for food and you would see Dad fixing a couple of plates with turkey, dressing, everything, and he’d say, ‘I’ll be back in a few minutes,’ ” Bobby Jr. remembered. “He would take those plates in the neighborhood to people who were alone or in need. Not many people knew that side of him.”

After Olympia High closed, Giles coached a bit at Keenan and A.C. Flora before retiring. Then, he occupied his time on mission trips and often would travel with Bobby Jr., who had coached at Hammond before becoming a college basketball official.

“I had a game at East Tennessee State, and he rode with me,” Bobby Jr. said. “The officials had to be there an hour and a half before the game, and Dad would spend that time going around the arena and talking to people. He talked to everyone.

“That time at Johnson City, he sat next to a couple during the game. They struck up a conversation, and the couple wondered if he had a grandchild in the game.

“He told them, No, that he was retired and spent his time driving his blind son around. They thought that was wonderful and asked, ‘Where is he tonight?’ Dad said, ‘That’s him in the stripped shirt; he’s the referee.’ They said, ‘You’re right; he’s blind.’ 

The wit and wisdom that made up Bobby Giles Sr. will be missed. He accomplished more in life than most and touched so many lives in positive ways. And he never let on.

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