There will be no politics today.
Dan Wiggins, longtime coach, and staple of the Bears’ football broadcast team has died. Dan was a husband, father, grandfather, and friend. His passing is a blow to his family and this community. And it has hit hard those of us that called him a friend.
Dan had spent over a month in the hospital in Augusta, battling ongoing lung issues. The last time I saw Dan was a few weeks before his stay in Augusta. He spent several days at Burke Health with what began as pneumonia.
I went by to visit on a Sunday afternoon. There was Dan, sitting in the recliner beside his bed. His face lit up when I walked in, that big, signature grin of his flashing. It was the way he always greeted people. Dan could have seen you the day before but he’d smile as though it had been years and he was genuinely glad to see you again.
Dan was hooked up to all sorts of stuff. He waved it off, aggravated that he was confined to a bed or a chair in that room. His wife, Jone, and oldest son, Daniel, had gone to Charleston for the day to visit his daughter, Elizabeth. Dan clearly wanted to be with them, not sidelined by a debilitating cough and a shortness of breath. We chatted about various things: family, local goings on, whatever sport my kids were currently playing; and, of course, Bears’ football.
Dan was always looking forward to fall. When I’d see him in the offseason, he’d always have some tidbit for me. Some upcoming freshman that looked promising or some kid who had gotten bigger or improved skill-wise.
A few years ago, Dan showed up at my office in the spring. His long-time broadcast partner, Chris Henry, was retiring and Dan wanted to know if I would be his “color man” in the booth. It was a big commitment, 10 or more weeks of Friday nights, in the Bear Den or on the road. I told him I’d need to run it by my wife.
More importantly though, I told Dan I doubted I was right for the job. I was a big football fan and watched a lot of games but there was a big difference between watching a game and competently calling its action over the radio. I had been a bench-warmer in every sport I had ever played. Dan shook his head at my concerns; he never once doubted my ability.
It was rare on a game night that some former player or coach, maybe even someone from the opposing team, wouldn’t run into Dan on the field or stick their head in the booth to say hello. Not only could Dan call their name without hesitation, but he’d start reminiscing about some play from years ago and could call the other team and the situation like it had just happened the week before.
And while Dan called a fair game, he never hid the fact that he was a Bears’ fan. On big plays, he’d yell, and his voice would get high pitched with excitement. And when games didn’t go our way and the reality set in that Burke County wouldn’t be able to pull it off, Dan’s voice would be low and somber, and I’d try my best to keep him from sounding like he’d given up.
If you had a child that came through the Upward basketball league run by First Baptist Church of Waynesboro, you have Dan to thank for that. He was the backbone of that group, ensuring that the gym was open and ready for every practice. He was there every Saturday for every game, announcing each child’s name like they were playing in the NBA finals.
Dan’s was a strong and steadfast faith. There is no question where his soul is today. For me, selfishly, there is that tinge of anger, for taking my friend before his time.
I can only imagine his family’s heartbreak. This community and the Bear Nation will miss him. I cannot fathom the coming fall without Dan’s gravelly voice coming thru my headset.
Godspeed, partner, I miss you already.
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