By Mike McCombs
“Dad always said, ‘If you’re going to do something, be the best you can,’” Ryan Day said Sunday.
It’s unlikely anyone can argue Nathan Day didn’t live up to his own credo.
Nathan Day, the longtime and highly successful Battery Creek High School wrestling coach, died Friday, Aug. 27, after a battle with COVID-19, leaving two communities in mourning – a third if you count the South Carolina wrestling community. He was 57, three days shy of his 58th birthday.
Ryan Day said his father became ill about three weeks ago before taking a turn for the worse just a few days ago. “The last three days were rough,” he said.
Nathan Day had most recently been the head wrestling coach at Liberty High School in the Upstate since 2017. He was a Physical Education teacher and the Athletic Director at Liberty Middle School, as well.
“It is with deep sadness that we inform you that we lost Coach Nate Day this afternoon,” Liberty Middle School posted on its Facebook page. “We have lost a teacher, coach, friend, valued colleague, husband, father of two, and grandfather. Our grief and confusion at this time are little compared to what the Day family must be feeling. Our hearts and prayers go out to them.”
Nathan Day is survived by his wife, Kim Day, his two adult children – daughter Morgan and son Ryan – two grandchildren and a brother and a sister.
Becoming a legend
It was at Battery Creek where Nathan Day cemented his legacy as one of the state’s best wrestling coaches. He won six state championships at Battery Creek High School (1991, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2014, 2015) and coached Dolphins wrestlers to 30 individual state championships in his 16-year tenure at the school.
“He was one of the best wrestling coaches in the state of South Carolina,” former Beaufort High School wrestling coach Bill Damude said. “He had an uncanny knack for getting kids out to wrestle. And then getting them to perform at their peak. He got a lot out of his kids.”
Day started coaching at Battery Creek during the 1987-1988 academic year after two seasons as an assistant coach at Summerville High School. He won his first state championship in his fourth season (1991) before winning titles the first three years (1994-1996) after the S.C. High School League changed to the duals format for the state championship.
Then in 1998, Nathan Day did something unexpected. He walked away.
This is where Nathan Day helped cement his legacy as a father.
“Dad was sitting in the gym one day, and Morgan and I were running around on the mats of something,” Ryan Day said. “Coach Trap (assistant coach Camillo Trapuzzano) said, ‘Don’t miss the opportunity to watch your kids grow up.’
“He told me, ‘That’s the best advice I ever got.’”
Nathan Day stayed involved at Battery Creek. But he wasn’t the wrestling coach.
Instead he spent that time focused on his family – his wife Kim, Ryan and daughter Morgan.
“I think most people know him as a coach,” Ryan Day said. “And he was, and a good one. But he always put us first – Mom, Morgan and I. He always did the best he could by his wrestlers and he did the same for us, even though he took time away from the things he loved.”
A big footprint
Ryan Day said the effects of his father stepping away from coaching was huge when you realize the impact he had on hundreds of kids over his career.
“We’d all be at home, and he’d just get up and leave the house,” Ryan Day said. “And then he’d come home after having gone to the store and buying tons of clothes. And he would ask my mom to pick out the best clothes for the kids on the team that just didn’t have any clothes.”
Ryan Day recalls his father driving around on Christmas Eve, delivering presents to kids that weren’t going to have any. And he remembers the countless times his father made someone cry, including his mother, with a perfectly timed and thoughtful gift.
“He knew what made people tick,” Ryan Day said. “He was good at it with wrestling. He was good at it with us, too.”
“He had a big heart. All the wrestling coaches have Nate stories,” Damude said. They had a custodian at Battery Creek that would ride a bike to work, and something happened to his bike. Nathan spearheaded the drive to get him a new one. That was the kind of guy Nate was.
“He was a great coach but a much better friend.”
While Ryan Day never wrestled for his father at Battery Creek – he went to Thomas Heyward Academy – he said his father was “a coach to me in a lot of other ways.”
“Every weekend, if it was football season, he and I were out on a field doing drills,” Ryan Day said, “even if he was just retrieving balls.”
The same went for every sport and for Morgan, as well. Basketball, baseball, softball, gymnastics, it didn’t matter, Nathan Day did what he could to help his kids excel.
When Ryan Day reached the high school level, Nathan Day got back in the game. He spent two years as an assistant coach at Robert Smalls International Academy (2010-2012) before returning to Battery Creek as head coach.
When Day returned to the Dolphins, it didn’t take him long to pick up where he left off, beating Liberty in 2014 and 2015 for two more state championships.
In 2017 though, Day finally left Battery Creek after 30 years to be closer to family in the Upstate. He became the head coach at Liberty, where he took the Flames to the state championship final in 2018 before losing to Bamberg-Ehrhardt.
Day had four more individual state champions at Liberty, bringing his total as a head coach to 34.
Overall, Day’s six championships put Battery Creek fifth in S.C. history, tied with three other schools, and are fourth most in state history by one coach. His 475 coaching wins (475-122-2) place Day eighth all-time among S.C.-only head coaches.
Giving until the end
Ryan Day said as he was growing up, he and his father had bonded over weightlifting, buying him a weight bench and a squat rack when he was in 7th grade.
“He instilled in me the responsibility of taking care of my body,” Ryan Day said, “which, ironically, he did until this last week when he couldn’t.”
Recently, with COVID having shut down his gym, Ryan Day found himself driving the hour from Greenville to his father’s house and using the equipment Nathan Day had bought him as a kid.
Ironically, because of COVID, Nathan Day was present when Ryan Day achieved a goal he had long worked to reach.
“I was over at the house, hit 385 and said, ‘OK, let’s try 400 on the old bench,’” Ryan Day said. “And he was there spotting me when I did it. I almost didn’t make it, but I did. It was a really cool moment for me and for him, too.”
Battery Creek faculty and staff were informed of Nathan Day’s death Friday afternoon.
Friday evening, a statement was posted on the school’s Facebook page:
“Today we lost Nate Day, our hearts are broken. Nate was a coach, husband, father, grandfather, and friend, … and he excelled at all these things. He excelled at everything he did, whether it was organizing the faculty end of the year trip to a Sand Gnats game, the golf tournament or raising money for Mr. Brown’s bicycle. If you were his friend there was nothing he wouldn’t do for you. When he had a party, his former wrestlers would show up complete with medals around their necks. A member of the South Carolina Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, he coached countless individual and state champion teams, including 6 Dual Team State titles.
“Nate will be missed but he will be missed for all the best reasons. Not because he didn’t have a good life, or he wasn’t successful or loved, but because our lives will be diminished without him in them. Keeping his beloved wife Kim, family, friends, and athletes in our prayers.”
Nathan Day’s visitation and funeral service were held Tuesday afternoon at Dillard Funeral Home, then Hillside Memorial Park in Pickens.
In lieu of flowers, the family asked for donations to the Coach Nathan Day Memorial Scholarship Fund (https://bit.ly/3kEfUPT).
On the gofundme.com page, Ryan Day wrote, “Coach Nathan Day has always valued integrity, work ethic, and respect. These donations will fund an annual scholarship to be awarded to one senior South Carolina wrestler each year who exhibits these traits.”
He said Nathan Day’s friends in the wrestling community around the state had committed to helping select the winning wrestler each year. Though there was clearly hope for more, the stated goal of the fundraiser was $1,000.
As of 10 p.m. Tuesday night, donations had reached $19,535.
Mike McCombs is the editor of The Island News and can be reached at TheIslandNews@gmail.com.
Above: Nathan Day, who won six state championships as the Battery Creek wrestling coach, died Friday after a battle with COVID-19. Photo courtesy of Ron Lanham.