November 2, 2012 10:48:28 AM
Adam Lowrey has watched helplessly as a program he spent five years building has started to fall apart around him.
As much as the West Oktibbeha County High School football coach tried to put a positive spin on the fact that tonight's game against Pelahatchie apparently will be his team's last of the season, Lowrey kept coming back to the hurt.
"It is like a death in the family," Lowrey said. "Every person who has experienced a death, that's how it feels. It has been that gut-wrenching."
Lowrey talked Thursday with officials from the Mississippi High School Activities Association and learned that the state's governing body for prep sports won't be able to intervene on behalf of the Timberwolves so they will be able to play in the Class 1A playoffs.
It's not that West Oktibbeha doesn't deserve it. In fact, a victory tonight would secure second place in Region 3 for the Timberwolves and would have guaranteed them a first-round home game. But the state's decision to take over the Oktibbeha County School District carries with it an immediate postseason ban for the school's athletic teams.
That news crystallized earlier this week when people realized the best season in West Oktibbeha County High football history wouldn't result in a trip to playoffs.
For Lowrey, who has watched the program grow from 1-9 in 2008, his first year, to today, it has been a difficult ordeal.
"Nothing is going to change. It is just horrible man," Lowrey said. "One of the boys said, 'There is always something in high school,' and that it is almost as if our school is 'cursed.' I actually believe him. It has always been something."
Through claims of having an ineligible player on the roster, having a player involved in an accident in which his truck flipped, to fearing another player broke an arm in practice to believing another player broke a leg, the Timberwolves have climbed above the obstacles thanks to the leadership of a senior class that includes standouts like Von Smith and Tiberias Lampkin.
Lowrey said being denied a chance to compete for a state title is hardest for seniors like Smith and Lampkin and their classmates. Those players won't have a chance to reap the rewards from years of hard work. Lowrey also fears the decision will tear his school apart. Student-athletes who are at schools that have been placed in conservatorship by the state will be allowed to transfer.
"If the numbers drop, we won't need as many teachers, so it will make it look like consolidation is the best thing to do," Lowrey said. "It will be an inadvertent way to consolidate."
Lowrey said student-athletes who will only be allowed to participate in region games likely will consider leaving West Oktibbeha County High so they can have a chance to play for a school title. If that happens, he feels the school, which has less than 150 students, won't have enough to field a football team.
For Lowrey, that means he likely will look for another job to continue to do something he loves. For his program, the state's decision likely will be a death blow.
"I told the Lord today that for this to happen the way it has happened, Lord we must have already accomplished what you wanted to do," Lowrey said. "There must not be anything else to do. It hurts to sit there and look at the kids to finally have something to associate themselves with as being great and accomplishing and knowing where they came from and where are now.
"That we don't get a shot to further what we accomplished is tough. ... Maybe the story isn't over. Maybe this is just the next chapter. Maybe this goes beyond this week or this season. I know great character is forged only in the fire."
Lowrey then looked to his faith for a way to describe the pain. He talked about Isaiah 54:17, which says in part, "No weapon that is formed against you shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against you in judgment you shall condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of me, says the Lord."
Lowrey spoke of the state's decision to ban his team and others at East and West Oktibbeha County high schools as the weapon that will make him, his players, and all of the other student-athletes stronger. He hopes that strength will be enough tonight to help his players win their final game of the season. He also hopes it will be enough for them next week and for the rest of the year as Timberwolves and Titans wonder how a decision meant to help so many is instead ending dreams and sending two schools closer to consolidation.
"It hurts bad," Lowrey said. "All I know is when all the pain is gone and it finally cools off, we're going to be made a little more in His image, and we're going to be a little bit stronger. That's where character comes from."
Adam Minichino is sports editor at The Dispatch. He can be reached at: [email protected]