May 18, 2017 11:46:11 PM
CALEDONIA -- Gary Griffin always heard good things about Caledonia High School.
Coaching for as long as he did at Columbus High, Griffin didn't pay close attention to Caledonia High in part because it was in a different Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) classification -- 4A -- than Columbus -- 6A. Still, Griffin knew from talking to his peers that Caledonia High had plenty of athletes and loads of potential.
On Thursday night, Griffin took his first steps to build on that promise in the Caledonia High girls and boys basketball programs during a meet and greet with parents and students in the school's gym.
"Today showed me they are very supportive of their kids and their athletics out here," Griffin said. "We're planning on coming out here to start building a program. We know it doesn't happen overnight, but we are going to put the work in and the time in so these guys can see some improvement in their game and the teams can see some improvement in their game."
Last Friday, the Lowndes County School Board approved Griffin to replace Josh Scott as Caledonia High's boys basketball coach and Andy Finch as the school's girls basketball coach. Griffin will teach driver's education at Caledonia. Scott will remain the school's athletic director.
Griffin, who was born in Jacksonville, Florida, grew up in Columbus. He played point guard for Sammy Smith at Lee High. He played an integral role in leading the boys basketball team to the state semifinals in his junior and senior seasons. Griffin went on to play basketball at Porterville College in California and Mid Plains Community College in North Platte, Nebraska. He returned to the area to become a teacher and eventually found himself a place on the sideline with Smith at Columbus High, where he stayed for more than a decade.
This past season, Griffin replaced Luther Riley at Columbus High and served as interim boys basketball coach. He led the Falcons to a 16-13 record and the MHSAA Class 6A State tournament. In April, the Columbus Municipal School District hired Anthony Carlyle to be the school's new boys basketball coach. Carlyle will be Columbus High's fourth boys basketball coach in four years.
In replacing Scott, who served as boys basketball coach for 21 years, and Finch, who served for nearly a decade, Griffin hopes to "change the culture" of programs he thinks are hungry for a fresh start.
"I plan to be instrumental with our young kids and the junior high kids," said Griffin, who also served as volleyball coach in his time at Columbus High. "I am very excited. I want to change the mentality. I think they get the sense that when it comes to certain sports out here it is a cakewalk when teams come to play. We want to change that whole perception."
Griffin believes the fastest runner or the strongest individual doesn't always endure. He plans to stress a team approach and to use a lot of hard work to implement his plans for both programs. He said he held tryouts for both teams Tuesday and had more than 50 boys and more than 30 girls attend.
Smith, who is the athletic director at Columbus High, feels Griffin has a great opportunity at Caledonia High. He is confident Griffin, who was on Riley's coaching staff in 2015-16 when Columbus High won the Class 6A State title, will build a foundation for success.
"He handled himself well last season (at Columbus with a team that lost 11 seniors)," Smith said. "I am very appreciative of the way he handled himself. Caledonia's situation is going to be different and there are going to be different problems, but they're going to be hungry. If he stays true to himself and puts his stamp on it he will be fine.
"I am proud that Caledonia saw he is a quality guy."
In August 2016, Griffin was named interim boys basketball coach to replace Riley. Griffin also was given an athletic supervisor supplement and was the school's cross country coach.
Griffin was named interim boys basketball coach after Indianola Gentry High boys basketball coach Alfrico "Chico" Potts turned down the Columbus High job.
On Thursday, Griffin didn't turn anyone away. He spent nearly an hour talking with parents and students about his plans for the programs. He said he is looking forward to starting workouts with the teams next month. His official start date as coach is July 3. His official start date as a teacher is Aug. 2.
"I would be remiss if I didn't thank coach Robert Byrd (Caledonia High assistant principal) for being very influential in trying to convince me this was the place to come and Dr. (Andy) Stevens (Caledonia High principal) for giving me an opportunity to come here and try to build a program out here," Griffin said. "I want the girls to understand we are going to put just as much time with them that we are going to put in with the boys."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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