Central Academy fast-pitch softball and girls basketball coach Sammy Lindsey talks about his teams Monday at the school’s sports banquet in its cafeteria. Central Academy, which was founded in 1968, will close at the end of this school year. Photo by: Adam Minichino/Dispatch Staff
May 9, 2017 11:10:44 AM
MACON -- Jack VanDevender has heard the questions for years.
Whether it has been queries about whether Central Academy is going to field a football team or whether he has heard if and when the school is going to close, VanDevender has shrugged off the questions and went about his business like many of the students at the small, private school in Noxubee County.
Last month, those questions were answered with finality when the school's board of directors voted unanimously to close the school at the end of this school year.
"I think they have been talking about it since we were in the fifth grade that the school was going to close," VanDevender said. "You never think about it, but then when I actually heard it was closing, it hit harder than I thought it would. It was a weird feeling that I can't describe."
On Monday, VanDevender and many in the Central Academy family came together for the school's final all-sports banquet in the cafeteria. A holiday feast featuring several main courses, sides, and vegetables, as well as a table filled with desserts, made the gathering seem like another family affair. In a sense it was because everyone gathered has stories to tell about their time at Central Academy and plenty of memories about the lessons they learned at the school, which was founded in 1968 and was accredited by the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).
VanDevender, a senior, who was a multi-sport athlete at the school, was at one of three tables worth of students to receive certificates and plaques for their accomplishments in athletics this school year. He and his peers thanked Central Academy football coaches Michael Dawkins and Bryan Ricks for everything they did for them from Little League through high school. VanDevender said the size of Central Academy -- 51 students in K4-12th grade this school year -- added to what made the school special for him and his classmates.
"It's small enough to where everybody can get to know everybody at a more personal level, so everybody is closer," VanDevender said. "Everybody is so much closer than if you were at a big school where you hardly know everybody."
VanDevender said the school's size created a camaraderie that allowed everyone to come together for a common goal and to "persevere" against many of the higher classification schools Central Academy faced in sports. Many times, though, Central Academy was outsized even when it faced Class A opponents, or when its eight-man football team competed against district rivals. Still, those numbers never changed the way the Vikings or the Lady Vikings fought.
Longtime Central Academy coach Sammy Lindsey and Dawkins, who both have seniors as part of the 2017 graduating class, spoke to the success of their fast-pitch softball, football, and basketball teams. They said the players always played the games the right way and gave their best even if the numbers weren't in their favor.
Lindsey, who graduated from the school in 1980, has spent more than 40 years as a fan, student, coach, volunteer, parent, and supporter of the school. He said the size of the school -- which had graduating classes of 56 in 1981 and eight in 1994 -- added to the mind-set that all of Central Academy athletics adopted.
"I felt like (the students) felt like they had to give everything they had to make it successful," Lindsey said. "Just knowing we didn't have a lot of extra players and they had to lift weights and stay in shape to prevent injuries made it easier for them to do everything positive to try to make it a successful program. It seemed like it just fell into place, and it got to be a habit with the younger kids."
Lindsey's fast- and slow-pitch softball team's were some of the school's most accomplished. This past season, the Central Academy fast-pitch team had its fourth-consecutive undefeated run through district play. Led by the "Fabulous Four" seniors Savanah Stapleton, Sadie Lindsey, Allie Beth Rigdon, and Kelsey Robbins, Central Academy won numerous MAIS slow-pitch titles. Last season, Central Academy lost in the Class A State title series. This season, Central Academy lost in the Class A Overall State tournament.
"It is like family," Lindsey said. "Everybody has pretty much worked together. I can't believe I have been here close to five decades. You just get used to turning into the gate."
Dawkins, who graduated from the school in 1991, echoed those sentiments. He said he enjoyed the time he had coaching his oldest sons, William and Preston, and didn't know where his daughter, Peyton, and his youngest son, Nick, would go to school next year. Dawkins said there probably weren't enough pages in the newspaper to describe why Central Academy made such an impact on the lives of so many people.
"A lot of people don't really value their home, where they come from, especially when you get out of Mississippi," Dawkins said. "People aren't proud of being from Mississippi. No matter what color you are you get called different names. A long time ago I learned to be proud of Mississippi and to be proud of my school. I am just an old timer and I have so many memories that I can't get rid of, positive and negative. I have been whipped in every classroom in this building, in the elementary building and in the high school, and deservedly so.
"I got my heart broke for the first time at a dance when I was in the sixth grade. There were a lot of first times here. I had a chance to play ball, and there was nowhere else I probably could have played. I probably would have ended up in jail if I didn't play sports. ... All of the people who are here, when you have the people that are around here that are together, we're unstoppable, but we just dwindled down. It is just like watching an old friend die. It is really heartbreaking."
The Noxubee Educational Foundation held its organizational meeting in May 1964. A charter was issued September 17, 1964. On June 8, 1968, the board of directors decided to construct a school building. Mr. Arthur Varner was awarded the contract. Mr. John Barrett was hired as Headmaster effective August 1, 1968, and the school became a reality.
The foundation for the school was poured on July 3, 1968, and the school opened its doors on Sept. 6, 1968. The first building consisted of nine classrooms, a music room, a library, a study hall, and boys and girls bathrooms. The building was built at a cost of $3 per square foot mainly due to Mr. Arthur Varner's supervision of the construction and donation of labor. Three additions have been made to the original structure: extra classrooms, a cafeteria, and a gymnasium.
The name, Central Academy, was chosen by the students. The students also selected the school colors of blue and gold and the school mascot, the Viking.
The school's last day will be Friday, May 19.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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