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The community says farewell to a coach, leader and friend

By Staff | Feb 22, 2013

Mourners gathered Thursday at New Street United Methodist Church to say farewell to lifetime resident, mentor, leader and friend Charles William “Bill” Osbourn. Better known as “Coach” to many, Osbourn served as a leader in the community his entire life.

Osbourn, who resided in Shepherdstown, across from Shepherdstown Middle School, began his coaching career in 1950 when he took a job as a teacher and coach at Hedgesville High School. Following his time at Hedgesville, he began a long period of 28 years of teaching and coaching at what was then Shepherdsown High School, later Shepherdstown Junior High.

Prior to his career in teaching, Osbourn himself graduated from Shepherdstown High School and went on to Shepherd College. He completed one year at Shepherd before joining the U.S. Navy in 1942. According to son, Mark, Osbourn joined the Navy just days after receiving his Army draft notice. Following his discharge in 1945, Osbourn finished his bachelor’s degree at Shepherd.

While at Hedgesville High, Osbourn coached Gale Catlett, who went on to be head basketball coach at West Virginia University. In a story written about Osbourn at his retirement in 1984, he was said to be very proud that he coached Catlett.

When Osbourn came to Shepherdstown to teach math and business and serve as coach, he coached in several areas. He served as head coach of football for five years and assistant coach for 19 more. To honor his service to that sport, the football field at the school was named after him.

In addition, Osbourn served as head coach of basketball for Hedgesville and Shepherdstown for a combined 28 years. He served as head coach of four sports at Shepherdstown for three years at once and was head coach of three sports for five years.

According to his son, Mark, track was one of his favorite sports to coach because it allowed the individual to shine on his own merits.

A man of simple means, Mark shared that his father and mother as well were raised during the depression.

“They recycled everything,” he laughed. Mark shared that nothing was wasted, including food. Gardening was a favorite pastime of his father who grew food to feed his family. Mrs. Osbourn canned the food raised.

In addition to gardening, Osbourn was a woodworker. He built his home in Shepherdstown himself and later helped Mark build his home.

The Osbourns lived simply, said their son. They walked to work each day, across the street from their home. Mrs. Osbourn was served as cook for the school.

By their example, they raised their children to believe in hard work and integrity. Those two things, Mark said, along with the belief to judge people by what’s in their heart rather than by the color of their skin were the three most important things he learned from his father.

Those lessons extended well beyond the walls of the Osbourn home.

Bishop Charles Hunter reflected on his experiences being coached by Charles “Bill” Osbourn, a man he credits for his acceptance and support, as Hunter entered Shepherdstown High School in 1957 as its first African-American student.

“I needed somebody I could depend on and Coach Osbourn was that person,” he said.

Hunter said of the coach “He had a special personality.”

Hunter said he offered a sense of consistency and reliability for his singular black student athlete, even in times of great racial tension and cultural uncertainty.

“There was no guessing about him…”

“Let’s be real,” Hunter said. “Everybody’s not going to change at once, but Coach set a tone.”

Hunter described what was both a working relationship and a deeply personal one with the coach.

“He was like my second daddy,” he said. “He was a strong a father figure.”

For Hunter, Coach Osbourn taught him on the football, basketball, track and baseball fields, and also in life outside of sports, guiding him in academics and encouraging him to do his best work.

“I could approach him at any time… He treated me just like one of his own children,” he said.

Work ethic was something that Osbourn demanded from his students and his athletes. Steve Holmes, a student at Shepherdstown from 1968-71 shared that Osbourn expected his athletes to first be students.

“He pointed out that we were at school to get an education,” Holmes said. “He expected us to give 100 percent.”

Holmes said that he never saw Osbourn disrespect anyone. While the coach was known to be soft spoken, Holmes laughed and said that didn’t mean the coach didn’t expect things from his athletes.

“He had the E.F. Hutton approach,” Holmes laughed. “When he spoke people listened. We knew if he was upset with us just by a look and when we were out of line, he let us know it.”

Holmes, who served as captain of the football team under Osbourn’s leadership as position coach, shared that Osbourn held each of the players and students accountable.

“He had high expectations,” Holmes said. “I don’t think there will ever be another coach or educator like him,” Holmes added.

Hunter and Holmes credit Osbourn for giving them a foundation with which to navigate life’s many challenges following high school.

“He had a great impact open my life and much of the success I’ve had in life,” Hunter said.

That impact is also seen in Osbourn’s family where continuing education was never a question.

“My parents were so strong about getting an education,” the younger Osbourn shared. “That was always the most important thing.”

And while the Osbourns never nudged their children to follow in their footsteps as educators, Mark shared that he and his sister both went into teaching. His brother, Mark said, went into engineering as did many members of the next generation of Osbourns. Of the eight grandchildren of Coach Osbourn, seven have completed degrees with the eighth nearing completion.

“He never nudged us,” Mark said, “but we saw Dad had a good life.”

In addition to all the time and efforts put into teaching and coaching, Osbourn found time to work behind the scenes at Shepherdstown Fire Department on any and all events the department held. He worked for Potomac Edison during the summers when school was out and worked for the county’s 4-H where Mrs. Osbourn served as leader.

The number of lives influenced by Mr. Osbourn, Coach Osbourn, “Bill”– go uncounted, but many openly step forward to share how he made a mark.

Hunter eulogized Coach Osbourn at a memorial service Thursday morning at the New Street United Methodist church here in Shepherdstown. Others spent time sharing stories and special moments created by one who will always be known as “Coach.”

-Kelly Cambrel contributed to this article.