March 29, 2011 8:40:00 AM
Bobby Berry has been blessed to be involved in high school athletics for more than 40 years. In that time, Berry has had reasonably good health and has taught many life lessons that have impacted student-athletes at a host of schools.
But it dawned on Berry two months ago that it might be time to do something else. After some more thought and consideration, Berry finalized his decision to retire as West Lowndes High School football coach. He also will retire from his teaching position at West Lowndes High at the end of the school year.
"I feel it is the right time," said Berry, who had a 62-76 record in 13 years as football coach at West Lowndes High. He also served as athletic director for eight to 10 years and track and field and powerlifting coach at the school. "It is time to say good night. It is like closing one chapter and opening another."
Berry said he has been asked to stay at the school and that he isn''t being run off. Despite the encouragement to remain at the school, Berry said he would like to spend more time with his wife, to travel, and to do things he hasn''t had a chance to do in the past.
Berry replaced Felix Wicks as football coach at West Lowndes for the 1998 season. He guided the team back to the playoffs in 2001, when the Panthers finished 7-4. They also won seven games in 2003, a high water mark for Berry''s teams at the school.
West Lowndes started 5-0 in 2006 but had to forfeit those victories due to an ineligible player. The team finished 4-7 that season.
The Panthers went 6-5 in 2010 and lost in the first round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 2A North State playoffs. The season capped a four-year run in which the Panthers finished at or above .500 each year.
Berry credited West Lowndes High Principal Clifford Reynolds and athletic director Roosevelt Bridges for helping grow the school''s sports programs. He also said he enjoyed working with the parents of all of the student-athletes he has coached through the years.
Berry, who is from Newton, started work in schools in his hometown before moving in 1970 to Monticello. He then worked at Caldwell High in Columbus for nine or 10 years before transitioning to B.L. Moor High, which is now East Oktibbeha County High, in Crawford. He said he spent the past 20-plus years at West Lowndes High.
"I was always told you knew when it was time," Berry said. "I just decided it was time to go. I have been doing this for more than 40 years, and I am a little worn out and tired and ready to do something different."
Berry said former players have told him he has mellowed through the years. He agreed with that assessment and said he was proud he "always tried to get the best" out of the student-athletes he taught or coached. He said knowing he has impacted so many young people through the years made the decision to retire difficult, but he said it is time to say enough is enough.
Berry said that decision was made even tougher by the fact West Lowndes should have a pretty good football team in 2011. With running back Antonio Wilson expected to return for his senior season, the Panthers will move from Class 2A to 1A. But Berry knows the move to a smaller classification won''t guarantee success.
"It probably will be a lot harder in August than it would be at any other time," Berry said. "I think about it sometimes and I think I probably will miss it every day, I will miss doing the things I have been doing ever since I have been in it, and I will miss the kids.
"I tried to do everything I could to make this the best I could, and that is the only way you can do it."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.