Sitting on 498 wins, West Ashley High School boy’s varsity coach Ronnie DuPre knows how loud to yell at his latest team in practice Thursday.
Not very.
Instead, DuPre focuses on teaching, redirecting during multiple whispered interactions with his teen players, who are struggling through a 5-12 season so far.
In a voice barely audible over the squeak of shoes and swishes of practiced free throws on the other end of the court, DuPre gently explains why it’s important to cut across the lane when the defense shifts to cover the shooter.
The player nods quietly, and DuPre sends him off with an “attaboy.”
“This team’s psyche is a little more fragile, you can’t yell,” says DuPre, who was known for being a yeller in the past. “They’re playing to the level of their abilities, but there’s just so little margin of error at this level.”
This year’s team, on pace to eclipse the program’s all-time loss record under DuPre, has had its share of bad luck. A transfer here, a water-bug guard blowing out his MCL there: it has added up.
DuPre has had big-time talent in the past. But it’s hard to spot on the court today. The effort is there, the attention, the desire to please the coach. But not the speed or the length or the talent that landed three players from the 2010 team currently on three different Division-I teams.
This year, when he’s sure to get his 500th win, perhaps against Cane Bay High on the last day of the month, probably should have been an easier year. But it has “far and way” been the hardest of his 27 years as a head coach, he says, running a hand across his forehead.
“It sounds crazy, but I’m not chasing numbers, which is odd since I’m a math teacher,” said DuPre, who has 32 years behind a lectern and now teaches Algebra II and statistics. “I’m just focused on the next game.”
Really, Coach? There’s no program you’d like to hang your 500th on?
“Well, historically, this team’s biggest rivals have been James Island and Wando high schools,” allows DuPre, who also coaches the boy’s varsity tennis team. He had coached at James Island for over a decade before coming to WAHS in 2001.
Matt Kennedy was on one of DuPre’s best teams. In 2009, when he was a junior, he helped lead the Wildcats to a 21-4 record, an exit in the third round of the state playoffs, and at one time, team peaked at 5th in the state.
These days, he starts for Charleston Southern University, where he’s having a breakout year and is that team’s second-highest scorer and is averaging close to 30 minutes of court-time a game. It’s been such a good year that playing professional overseas might be a possibility for Kennedy, who is shooting close to 50 percent from three-point land.
This milder, more reflective DuPre is not the personality that Kennedy remembered.
“He was definitely a yeller,” said Kennedy, whose mother teaches physical education at the school. “We knew we were good, but he made sure we knew we weren’t good enough, and that he was going to push us to be better.”
Kennedy said that DuPre pushed the team further not to be complacent, and not “settle for what we had already accomplished.” Like never having lost to Wando during Kennedy’s years on varsity.
That near-championship season had its share of disappointment, too. On the road in a tight sectional playoff, with time running out and down a single point, a last-second buzzer beater was disallowed.
Since there was no red light on the backboard to signify time running out, the referees had to rely on hearing the buzzer.
“It was so loud in that gym,” remembers DuPre. “I saw it later on film and I couldn’t tell if it’s good or bad. If we’d been at home or if the shot would had merely tied the game, I think the refs would have given it to us.”
When asked how many more years he’s got left to give, DuPre, who turns 55 in a few weeks, said he makes that decision “one year at a time.”
This year may take more out of him than other years. It’s already taken his volume.

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