High School Basketball

Former Gamecock, Midlands coaching legend receives state’s highest honor

Cy Szakacsi with former player Xavier McDaniel and statistician Jack Haynes.
Cy Szakacsi with former player Xavier McDaniel and statistician Jack Haynes. Special to The State

A who’s who in high school athletics from a bygone era turned out Friday to honor John “Cy” Szakacsi, a coaching treasure whose teams won more than 800 games and earned state championships in four sports in a career that spanned 45 years.

Szakacsi, 95, received the Order of the Palmetto, the state’s highest civilian honor that recognizes lifetime achievement and service to South Carolina. State representative Beth Bernstein made the presentation on behalf of Gov. Henry McMaster.

The throng on hand at Brookdale Senior Living Center to salute Szakacsi included former players, coaches and rivals from his days at old University High, A.C. Flora, Heathwood Hall and Cardinal Newman.

“He got me started,” said Xavier McDaniel, who earned All-American honors at Wichita State and became an NBA All-Star. Former major league baseball player Jerry Martin, who played at old Olympia High, recounted “some really competitive games” against Szakacsi’s University High teams.

“Not many coaches have won state championships in four different sports,” Jack Haynes, Szakacsi’s longtime statistician, said in pointing to titles in basketball, football, baseball and golf.

Szakacsi is best known for his basketball teams, but he coached baseball until he turned 76. “I couldn’t hit infield (practice) anymore,” he said.

Former players on hand included Joe Laird from an early University High team. “The best player in Columbia,” his coach said. Former coaches included Charlie Macaluso, Stan Wood, Bob Ellenburg and Jeff Whalen.

Barry Lourie had the idea of honoring Szakacsi and asked Haynes if he had any statistics. “I’ve got boxes and boxes of records,” Haynes replied and spent three days sorting through his data.

A native of Ohio, Szakacsi enrolled at the University of South Carolina after service in World War II. He earned seven letters in basketball and baseball. He began his coaching career at University High on the USC campus in 1951.