Sertoma Football Classic not returning this year

Local coaches share memories from the high school tournament’s 48 year run

Lowcountry high school football trivia time: Name the only person who has been associated with the Sertoma Football Classic in one way or another since its inception in 1971.

If you answered Paul Runey of Bishop England High School, move to the front of the class.

Runey played in the first Sertoma Classic in 1971 as a member of the Battling Bishops. After that, he served as either an assistant or head coach of the football team and continues to show up on the sidelines as the school’s athletic director.

Runey remembers 1971 like it was yesterday, talking about playing in Johnson Hagood Stadium in front of thousands of fans. It was a memory he won’t forget. His brother, Pat, scored the first touchdown in Sertoma history that August night when he caught a short TD pass from quarterback Tommy Kuppens.

But future memories might be a thing of the past. Charleston Sertoma officials recently announced the event will not be held this year, and with membership numbers in The Sertoma Club dwindling, it probably will not make a return, although officials hope to revive it.

“For a high school athlete, Sertoma was the center stage,” Runey said. “It was surreal. We were used to playing at Porter-Gaud and smaller stadiums, and it was fantastic to be on the field and have a big crowd watching you.”

The Sertoma Classic, with all its pomp, circumstance and school football, was the kickoff to the football season in the Lowcountry. The jamboree, with the exception of a few years, was played at The Citadel’s Johnson Hagood Stadium. It was also televised, and the proceeds went to aid participating schools’ athletic budgets and various charities around the Lowcountry.

Sertoma officials told The Post and Courier the 2019 event was canceled because of declining team participation in the jamboree, declining attendance, rising costs to hold the event and declining membership in the Sertoma Club, which is an acronym for Service To Man.

It was the place to be seen for players and other high-schoolers as the school year commenced. But the event was short-circuited when other schools from surrounding areas decided to break away and hold jamborees on their own. Some teams also opted to kick off the season a week earlier, which is commonly referred to as “Week Zero.”

Bishop England’s current football coach John Cantey also hates to see the event end. His father, Jack, coached in the first Sertoma Classic. The younger Cantey played in the event from 1989-91.

“It’s been struggling for several year years,” Cantey said. “It was an event that rallied communities and schools. I know our student body loved it.”

Philip Simmons head coach Eric Bendig, whose team made its debut at the event last year, also has fond memories of the Sertoma Classic. He played at Wando, and was the team’s tight end.

“The tight end wasn’t usually involved in the passing game,” Bendig said. “We played Woodland and I scored a touchdown. It was one of the few touchdowns I scored in high school. I remember seeing it on TV the next day. It’s something I won’t forget.”

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