The late Carl Williams, former A.C. Flora, Richland Northeast, and Lower Richland head coach, once told Bobby Young that to win a state championship he had to win, be good, be lucky, and pray a lot.
The former Columbia Capitals’ girls basketball coach certainly won a lot, fielded good teams, was lucky some times during his career, and must have done his fair share of praying. Young spent 38 years at Columbia winning five state championships and now has decided it’s time to hang up his whistle.
“I’m a no nonsense person, and I’m a disciplinarian,” Young said. “I can see the kids are changing. It’s time for me to step away and let someone younger come in and coach.”
Young’s Hall of Fame career began in 1981. At that time he was the head coach of the boys’ junior varsity team. Girls basketball was still in its embryonic stages and the Columbia’s girls basketball team was struggling on the court.
Before the season, the head coach was let go and the school’s principal, a former basketball coach, wanted one more shot to prove he could still coach. The team still continued to struggle and the players refused to play for him.
With only a handful of games remaining in the season, the principal approached Young about coaching the remainder of the season. He agreed. At the end of the season, Young discovered he enjoyed the challenge and decided to take over the position permanently.
He inherited a program that had gone through seven coaches and three seasons without winning a game. Young felt like he could turn the program’s fortunes around.
“I felt the girls knew me because I played a lot of basketball in the gym,” Young said. “I taught physical education and they took my class. I played basketball with them during that class, and they saw how fun it was. I think they saw me as the person who could take them to the next level.
“I felt all along I could take them as far as their skill and ability would take them. If they were willing to work hard, I felt I could take them to a championship level.”
Young’s coaching philosophy never changed even though he went from coaching junior varsity boys basketball to girls varsity.
“I didn’t see any reason to change the way I was coaching,” Young said. “I used the same methods, and it worked.”
That first season the Lady Capitals won 13 games and posted a winning season.
It was the start of a building process Young instilled in the team based on four principals: consistency, longevity, dedication, and hard work.
Young also benefitted from a pipeline of players coming from St. Andrews Middle School coached by A.J. Smith.
Young continued to build the program, first by achieving winning seasons, then by winning 20 or more games for multiple seasons. Finally, the biggest hurdle remained: winning a state championship.
There was an adage around Columbia-area basketball that a coach wasn’t truly great until he won a state championship.
It took some time, but Young got that first state title during the 1993-1994 season.
Young recalls Williams telling him that more often than not if a coach won one state title, they’ll win another. For Young, that first title was the beginning of a dynasty-type run in the 1990s.
Columbia won its second at the end of the 1995-1996 season and followed it up with titles in the 1997-1998 and 1999- 2000 seasons.
Young’s final title came at the conclusion of the 2003-2004 season.
While it was his last, Young still fielded teams that competed for state titles.
The 2010-2011 season ended in Greenville’s Bilo Center to Keenan in the 2A girls’ Upper State Championship. A year later, the Lady Capitals avenged the semifinal loss to Keenan but fell to Bishop England in the state championship game.
“Having the success I did at Columbia meant a great deal to me,” Young said. “When I first started coaching I had no idea I would go as far or do as well as I did. I knew I was a great player when I played in high school and college, but I wasn’t sure how that would carry over to coaching someone else.”
Young also credits his success to being able to talk strategy and fundamentals with some of his fellow coaches like Williams, Irmo’s Tim Whipple, former Eau Claire coach George Glymph, former Keenan and C.A. Johnson head coach Ben Trapp, and former C.A. Johnson head coach Tim Gates.
Along with the success Young had on the court, he also got to coach his daughter Traci Young-Cooper. He said she was like another coach on the floor, someone her fellow players could confide in.
Over nearly four decades in coaching at Columbia, Young has seen a lot of changes in the sport. He notes that when he first got into coaching it was about getting some players out of tough living environments. Now, he said, the kids are more interested in getting jobs. Young said that has been on of the biggest challenges he’s faced, along with no longer getting kids from St. Andrews Middle School like he once did.
Throughout it all, Young’s career has come with plenty of fulfilling moments. Aside from the five basketball championships, he also has three championships as an assistant track and field coach.
As the next chapter of Columbia girls’ basketball is written under new head coach Candace Bush, the impact of Young’s time at Columbia High School will be long lasting.