DUBLIN — For the past three years, coach Junior Nance has walked the halls of West Bladen High School as part of his job as safe schools coordinator.
“It’s my job to make sure the students are doing what they should be in the hallways, check certain areas and just make sure things are safe,” he said.
On Tuesday, that walk took on a vastly different feeling. After 30 years, it was his last day as a teacher at the school.
“Driving to school (on Tuesday) and every step I took in the school was emotional,” Nance said. “Think about it … 200 days a year at school, 30 years. That’s a lot of time.”
As emotional as the ending may have been, Nance has numerous memories from the journey to keep him satisfied.
He spent 34 years as a coach in Bladen County Schools — the first four coming as a volunteer at Bladenboro High. His last 12 years has been spent at West Bladen High. Throughout those 34 years, Nance has been a boys basketball head coach, head golf coach, junior high softball coach, assistant football coach and assistant track coach.
His basketball teams of the late 1980s and well into the 1990s were some of the best in North Carolina.
“I felt like we were one of the very best 1-A basketball programs in the state,” Nance said.
Proof of that can be found in the two state championships his teams won in 1990 and 1994, as well as the state runner-up finish he had in 1992. His teams also won several conference titles and, overall, won 313 games during his coaching career — representing a winning percentage of better than 73 percent.
In addition, Nance has coached more than 10 players during his career who have gone on to coach in high school, college or the professional ranks.
Among those is West Bladen’s current head boys basketball coach Travis Pait, who played on one of Nance’s state title teams; head football coach Russell Dove, who was a three-sport star; and Wade Pait, the former head baseball coach and athletics director.
“There are so many others, like Ann Hancock, that I’ve taught or coached along the way … it’s impossible to name them all,” Nance said. “In this school (West Bladen) alone, there are 14 people on staff that I taught or coached.”
Nance said he could not pick a single accomplishment or event as his biggest highlight over the 30-year career. Instead, he said it was “the body of work” that means the most to him.
“But kids who come back years later and tell me that, back then, they didn’t understand what I was trying to tell them about their future — but now they do,” Nance said. “That’s a big deal for me
“As a teacher and coach … it’s all about the love of the game and the kids,” he added.
After spending so much of his life in the schools of Bladen County, the last big chunk at West Bladen, Nance is hoping he’s left a legacy that will be remembered for two things.
“When people remember me, I hope they will remember that there were two things important to me: to be highly consistent and that I had high expectations for the kids, in the classroom and in sports,” Nance said. “I always wanted to get everything I thought each student had in them; to see them work hard every day to achieve success.”
Now that the next phase of Nance’s life has begun to unfold, he said there are specific things he has planned.
“I’m going turkey hunting first,” he said. “And I plan to do a lot of golfing, go on vacation with my wife and enjoy the leisure time.”
Oh, and one more thing …
“I’ll still be around West Bladen sports when I can,” he said.