October 7, 2009 10:04:00 AM
About a year ago I sat on an airplane somewhere on the west coast eager to get back home after a few days of hard work. At some point between our taxi and takeoff I reached for my USA Today and began to read.
I skimmed through the typical headlines. I let out a slight yawn as I turned the page and BAM, it hit me! It was an article about the stellar football program in Batesville, MS and the one million dollar turf they installed to limit bumps and bruises as the South Panola High School football team walked all over opponents. OK, it didn''t exactly say that, but that''s what I gathered nonetheless. It was a difficult moment for me emotionally. I was one part excited that a program from Mississippi was being featured in a national newspaper and two parts infuriated as I thought about the glory days of Columbus High School football!
I was very fortunate to play under the best group of football coaches CHS has ever employed. Roy McCrory and staff took over the football program at CHS in 1997 after a string of losing seasons dating back to 1992. The pre-Roy era was a "good ol boy" system that retained incompetent coaches just because they had years in the school system. CHS hadn''t won more than five games and the idea of our football team advancing to the post-season was about as crazy as pigs flying! However, with a lot of patience, even more hard work, and a winning attitude Roy and his staff built one of the best programs in the state by 2000 (ranked as high as #5 in the state). So, why was Roy McCrory the most successful coach in CHS history?
I am sure you if you asked a handful of players, teachers, coaches, and administrators that question, you''d get a handful of different answers. But since I have the floor my answer will have to do for now! Coach McCrory worked extremely hard to make sure we had every opportunity to succeed. During the summers his staff worked everyday ... yes everyday! They opened the weight room from 7-11 a.m., took lunch until about 2 p.m., and did odd jobs (installing sprinkler systems, laying turf, painting fields) around the stadium until 4 p.m. when the weight room re-opened for evening workouts. Parents that had sons on his team and wives that had husbands on his staff knew exactly where to find their kids/husbands during the summer.
Coach McCrory didn''t make excuses! Since I graduated from college in 2005 I have been back to Columbus every fall at least once to catch a game. Unfortunately, as you probably know by now, I have witnessed more defeats than victories. Occasionally I have had the opportunity to ask a coach or two about our issues as a program and I got the same lame answer every time, "These kids are so much different than you guys were." Seriously? South Panola, in a city of 8,000 sitting on 11 square miles of earth, ripped off 5 consecutive state crowns from 2003-2007! How did they manage to keep cookie cutter kids for all those years? What magic potion did they use? It''s quite simple, coaching!
Coach McCrory cared about his kids. "Care" in this instance isn''t referring to the genuine concern for the well being of the kids in the program. I know, without doubt, that every coach to ever walk the sidelines at CHS has cared for the football players he coached. Instead I''d like focus on the relationships he made over the years and used during his time at CHS to get his players into college. His contact list was extensive and college scouts and coaches lived in our weight room. He never met a college coach he didn''t like or establish a bond with. There were small schools and big schools, private schools and public schools all wanting a piece of the action. Most of us were lucky and had the opportunity, whether we accepted or graciously declined, to play college football at some level. This was his greatest strength. He cared more about our future than he did wins or losses. But he understood that for most of us, being a part of a winning program was the first step toward securing the personal futures we all dreamed of achieving. Some of us might never have thought about higher education if not for the visiting college coaches that spoke to us regularly about the importance of succeeding in the classroom and the advantages that came with a college degree.
I could go on and on for days about why Coach McCrory was successful. But the most important message I''d like to convey is that a winning program in Columbus is essential. It is relevant to parents, kids, and our community as a whole! Parents with young children in the system have the most to lose. If immediate action is not taken to change the conventional mind-set and establish a winning culture in Columbus, your kids will be in the same position (consecutive losing seasons) in six or seven years! Consider this, if Dan Mullen or Houston Nutt put two .500 seasons back to back we''d all be demanding a coaching change! This is incredible because most of us don''t even have step cousins in either of those programs! So why shouldn''t we be as enthusiastic about our high school football program? The athletes on the field wearing the mighty purple and gold are our sons, brothers, and real cousins! I think they deserve the same dedication we lend to the college programs in our area. I''m sure it might only take one .500 season at South Panola before a coaching change was made!
Jonathan Lewis, Columbus High Class of 2001