SHEPHERDSTOWN – When mourners gathered last week to remember C. William “Coach” Osbourn Jr., many of them described his influence on their lives and careers, said his son Mark Osbourn.
“People told us they’re in banking or engineering or teaching today because of Dad – every day they use skills he taught them,” said Osbourn, who followed his father into teaching and today is a member of the Jefferson County Board of Education.
Osbourn died Feb. 17 at Canterbury Nursing Home in his native of Shepherdtown. He was 90.
Beyond his contributions as an educator and longtime coach of football, basketball, baseball, and track and field teams, Osbourn also made history as the first coach of an integrated sports team in Jefferson County Schools, Mark Osbourn said.
The football player who broke the color barrier – Charles Hunter, bishop of Ebenezer Mount Calvary Holy Church
in Summit Point – was among those recalling the milestone at Osbourn’s funeral last week, Mark Osbourn said.
“I know that at one point, the team was out of town for an away game and the restaurant wouldn’t serve Charles Hunter and so my dad left with the whole team,” he said. “He didn’t make a big deal about [his role in integration] but he believed strongly that you judge people by what’s in their hearts, not the color of their skin.”
Osbourn was the first in his family to go to college. His parents, Charles William Osbourn Sr. and Leoda McKee Osbourn, made a living farming outside of Shepherdstown.
“My dad remembered walking home from basketball practice at 9 or 10 at night,” Mark Osbourn said.
“That was just how it was.”
After graduating from Shepherdstown High, he enrolled at then-Shepherd College. Then came Pearl Harbor and Osbourn was drafted into the Army. A few days later, he enlisted in the Navy and served until 1945, according to his son.
Osbourn returned to Shepherdstown after the war and completed his bachelor’s degree in 1950. He went on to earn a master’s degree from West Virginia University in 1957.
He began his 34-year teaching career in 1950 in Berkeley County, at Hedgesville High School. Starting in 1956, he taught and coached in Jefferson for nearly three decades, working first at Shepherdstown High School and then in the same building when it became Shepherdstown Middle.
“A car would last my mom and dad forever because they hardly ever needed to drive,” explained Mark Osbourn, whose mother, the late Annabel Demory Osbourn, worked as a school cook. “They lived right across from the school and so they both walked to work every day.”
In 1995, the football field at Shepherdstown Middle School was renamed “Osbourn Field” in his honor. “He got to see his grandchildren and even a great-grandchild play on that field,” Mark Osbourn said. “That made him happy.”
As a teacher at Shepherdstown High, his dad especially loved working with track and field athletes, Mark Osbourn said. “It was just his thing,” he said.
Osbourn’s 1965 track and field team won the regional championship and in 1967, a Shepherdstown High squad finished sixth at the state meet – the school’s best showing ever.
Back then, West Virginia track and field teams competed in just two classes. Schools in Parkersburg, Charleston and Weir High vied in the “Big School” division while Shepherdstown faced Keyser, Romney, Big Creek, Paw Paw and scores of other schools with enrollments of up to 500 students.
Four Shepherdstown athletes won individual-event state championships during Osbourn’s coaching tenure.
The school’s track and field teams also won Bi-State League titles in 1966, 1967 and 1968 competing against Eastern Panhandle schools including Musselman, Hedgesville, Charles Town and Harpers Ferry as well as Maryland schools such as Clear Spring, Smithsburg, Williamsport and Hancock.
In 1972, after the consolidation of high schools in the county when Shepherdstown High became a junior high, Osbourn was known to attend practices and afternoon and evening games, and to take time to talk to students and others who sought his counsel.
Former Shepherdstown Junior High principal Densil Nibert recalled Osbourn fondly. “I would call Bill a true gentleman,” said Nibert, who is now retired. “He was always over at the school and was like a legend. He had a special rapport with the students. I always enjoying talking to him and so did they.
“He loved the school and he loved Shepherdstown. He could tell you anything that had gone on at the school.”
John Lowery, Sr., who tutored the freshmen basketball team at Shepherdstown Junior High School in the 1990s, remembers Coach Osbourn being at the school, attending practice sessions and sitting in the bleachers in the basketball facility that had been built after he had left coaching.
“He was always there in support of the kids and had a great interest in the school and the community,” said Coach Lowery. “He set a great example for the students by talking to them and paying attention to their games.”
Community involvement was another hallmark of Osbourn’s. Just last month, Osbourn was honored with the Man of Distinction Award for “outstanding dedication and extraordinary contributions to our community.”
A lifelong member of the New Street United Methodist Church in Shepherdstown, Osbourn also volunteered with the Shepherdstown Volunteer Fire Department Auxiliary and the Shepherdstown Men’s Club.
He and his wife also spent decades working with Shepherdstown youth involved in 4-H. In 1986, the Osbourns were honored as 4-H Family of the Year.
In addition to his son Mark, survivors include his daughter, Nancy Sarra, a Shepherdstown resident and also an educator; his brother, Robert Osbourn of Falling Waters; eight grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
His two sisters, Mary Frances Smith and Betty Osbourn, both of whom owned businesses in Shepherdstown, are deceased.
Osbourn, a widower since 2007, lost his other son, 69-year-old Larry Osbourn, just in December.