December 9, 2017 11:06:23 PM
While 11 years have passed since his graduation, Tyson Lee remains passionate about his high school alma mater, Columbus High.
"Even though I live 30 miles from there, Columbus is my home," said Lee, who is the development coordinator at Mississippi State University. "I will always be passionate about my hometown and my school. It starts with stability. It is badly needed. It has been needed for a long time."
When Caldwell High and Lee High merged to form Columbus High, many assumed the Falcons would have one of the state's premier athletic programs. Instead, the greatest times in the school's athletic history can be summed up rather briefly.
Christopher Deloach played football and basketball at the school. A sophomore at East Central Community College in Decatur, Deloach was part of the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 6A State championship team in boys' basketball in 2016.
Deloach was disappointed in the recent decision not to bring back football coach Randal Montgomery. He also has watched as the boys' basketball program has gone through four coaches in four seasons.
"When (Columbus) gets something good, they run them off," Deloach said. "They really make it impossible to keep anybody. It's frustrating. You got coaches working hard and they want to be there. That should be enough. Instead, you look at football, basketball, baseball, the successful coaches go elsewhere. Columbus deserves better."
Lee played on fairly successful football teams at Columbus High. He later watched younger brother, Trace Lee, fight hard to lead the team back to the playoffs in 2012. Tyson Lee had helped quarterback the team to its previous playoff appearance in 2005.
"It's not all about facilities and plans. It's really not," Tyson Lee said. "It doesn't matter how good your plan is if you don't have the people to execute it. Just about every year, you are seeing new principals, new superintendents, new coaches. You can't win like that. It doesn't matter how good your facilities are. You have to help your athletic teams to be successful. The only way to do that is stability.
"You have to know your coach is there for you 12 months out of the year," he added. "It starts at the top. Until you get a superintendent and principals ready to stay for the long haul, you won't see Columbus do any better. That hurts."
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Robert Woodard II has earned Dandy Dozen honors in each of the last three seasons in boys' basketball. He has signed with MSU, but he hopes to guide Columbus to a second title in three seasons before graduating next spring.
Woodard admits playing for four coaches in four seasons has been a challenge. Longtime Columbus coach Sammy Smith was moved to the athletic director position after Woodard's freshman year. Since then, Luther Riley, Gary Griffin and current coach Anthony Carlyle have led the basketball team.
"Playing for four coaches has proved quite the challenge," Woodard said. "We have everything we need to be successful here, except stability. Each season, the team has started slow because we have been adjusting to a new coach and his style. It seems like it has been January before we feel like we are really ready to compete."
Woodard gives the school three Division I signees this calendar year. Kylin Hill signed with MSU in football, while Tahj Sykes signed with Southern Mississippi in football.
Casey Smith is the point guard on the basketball team. He transferred from West Lowndes High for his senior season. More exposure was the primary reason for the move.
"We really have a special team," Smith said. "Everybody has welcomed me with open arms. From weights to practice time to a good coaching staff, we have everything in place we need to win. The biggest challenge involves coach Carlyle. They need to leave him alone and let him coach because he has been successful. He can do some special things here."
Tyson Lee feels the school has untapped potential. Granted, he has been waiting to see that potential develop for two decades.
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"It starts with having the right people in place," Lee said. "(School officials) need to sit down with the coaches and make a long-term commitment. Players need to know what they are working for, what they are training for. Columbus has always taken pride in being the underdog. If you go to Columbus, you have to work hard for everything.
"That is why stories like Kylin and Robert are so special," he added. "When you leave Columbus, you are tougher. You have always been the underdog and you have always had to fight. There are always so many things you have to overcome."
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Scott is sports copy editor and reporter