Connect with Author

Stories Written by Brandon Speck



By Brandon Speck

Daily Journal

NETTLETON – Kaleigh Tackett was chasing foul balls when Nettleton’s string of six straight Class 3A fast pitch championship series began.

Now, with fellow seniors Lauren Baldwyn and MariAnna Young, Nettleton is seeking a seventh shot and a fourth title.

There are multiple keys to Nettleton’s success, but one underlying key goes unnoticed.

Tackett, like junior Harley Tucker, who is leading the team with a .500-plus batting average, weren’t only chasing foul balls and sitting on buckets so their older teammates had a spot on the dugout bench. Not even then old enough to drive, they were learning.

“It means a ton. I think there are a couple of things that happen when you get them that young,” Nettleton coach Dana Rhea said. “First of all, they learn what to expect, the expectations we as coaches have for our players. And second, the learn how things are done.”

One way things have been done is in the weight room. Nettleton has been a player in state powerlifting, just as it has in softball. Tucker won a gold medal in the April 5 state meet.

Lifting weights

Weightlifting started before the school began competing in powerlifting. Then-superintendent James Malone got it going.

“He had a passion for girls’ athletics’ and saw weightlifting as an avenue for success,” Rhea said. “It started out as a weightlifting period.”

Success came in softball first, which led to the school jumping into the powerlifting business.

Tucker is the lone powerlifter on the team now, but at one time, it was the whole team blaring Metallica and pumping iron for a whole school period.

The softball team lifts one period a day in the offseason.

“As a coach, I saw the change after probably the first year they were in the weight room,” Rhea said. “You could see them getting stronger. The illegal bats had been thrown around for years, but nobody knows the work that’s been going on around here since 06-07 of just lifting every single day.”

Lauren Wood | Buy at North Pontotoc's Colby Graham and Booneville's Joseph Carver both look to the umpire after a play during Tuesday's game.

Lauren Wood | Buy at
North Pontotoc’s Colby Graham and Booneville’s Joseph Carver both look to the umpire after a play during Tuesday’s game.

By Brandon Speck

Daily Journal

Booneville shortstop Andrew Lambert threw a ball that landed beside him and teammate Chase Calvery tripped over first base, turning a sure double into an RBI single.

That all came as North Pontotoc overcame its own comedy of errors – as well as an 8-0 hole – and beat Booneville 14-9 Tuesday to clinch Division 1-3A.

“Guys kept fighting and some good things happened for them,” North coach Chad Anthony said. “We’re real thankful for that victory.”

The Vikings scored 12 unanswered runs after Booneville took an 8-0 lead to the fourth. The game took 3 hours, 9 minutes. The teams combined for 30 hits, 17 for Booneville (13-9, 4-4).

Booneville had five errors, one as a ball off the bat of Miciah Heard went Bill Buckner-esque through the legs of third baseman Tyler Newby. Winning pitcher Caleb Todd scored to give North a 9-8 lead in the fifth.

The Vikings (18-3, 7-1) added three more runs in the inning, as Booneville went to its third pitcher, one as a ball was dropped in right field. Trey Jolly made it 12-8 lead when Lambert lost his grip as he was throwing a pick attempt back home.

“I was really excited about our offensive approach,” Booneville coach Bo Sandlin said. “Defensively, we just fell apart.”

Early trouble

Lauren Wood | Buy at Booneville's Connor Goodwin keeps his eye on the ball after missing a catch during Tuesday's game.

Lauren Wood | Buy at
Booneville’s Connor Goodwin keeps his eye on the ball after missing a catch during Tuesday’s game.

North was the one auditioning for the blooper reel in the first three innings. After Lambert’s two-run single, Todd let a ball past him at short. Two scored.

After Todd replaced starter Josh Tutor, Booneville two-hitter Daniel Calvery saw his pop to right lost in the sun above Austin Bray. Two scored for an 8-0 lead.

In North’s comeback, Colby Graham, Jolly and Cole Loggins had three straight RBI doubles in an eight-run fourth. Twelve went to the plate and seven runs came with two out.

“Once we scored, that kind of started giving a little momentum,” Anthony said.

Lauren Wood | Buy at Tupelo's Mickey Sesin slides safely into second base as Grenada's Will Jordan defends.

Lauren Wood | Buy at
Tupelo’s Mickey Sesin slides safely into second base as Grenada’s Will Jordan defends.

By Brandon Speck

Daily Journal

TUPELO – The division is still Tupelo’s to win or lose, but Grenada has the Wave’s number. The Chargers beat Tupelo for the second time this season, 4-3 Friday to take the season series. Both were one-run games.

Tupelo (15-5, 5-1 Division 2-6A) can still clinch the division with a win in the Monday-Tuesday series with Hernando.

“Those guys play well against us,” Tupelo coach Gary Enis said. “They’ve put together good at-bats when they had to. We just didn’t hit tonight.”

Tupelo led 3-2 after the fourth inning. With two outs in the top of the fifth, Grenada got a single from Ethan Burke. Lavorious Redditt then lined a double off the left field wall. He took third on the throw and scored on an awry throw to third.

Tupelo managed only six hits off Grenada starter Caleb Morgan (3-2) and scored all three of its runs in the fourth inning. Down 2-0, Ty Wheeler and William Ikerd singled to load the bases. Woody Goss had an RBI bunt single and pinch hitter Jason Garrett reached when his hard grounder went through the legs of Chargers’ shortstop Will Jordan. Two scored. Carter Clayton flew out to right and left two stranded.

Lauren Wood | Buy at Tupelo catcher William Ikerd stands at home plate after a Golden Wave error let Grenada's Javorius Redditt score a run.

Lauren Wood | Buy at
Tupelo catcher William Ikerd stands at home plate after a Golden Wave error let Grenada’s Javorius Redditt score a run.

The Wave left two on in the second inning and Grenada (12-6, 4-4) turned a double play after Hudson Roy’s single in the third. Mickey Sesin stole second base in the first inning, but was stranded.

“We didn’t hit,” Enis said, “left runners on in the first and second innings, in scoring position. That changes the whole stage of the game if we get an early lead.”

Morgan, a sophomore, struck out nine. Drew Hurst (3-3) took the loss for Tupelo. Wave sophomore Jason Garrett came on with two down in the fifth and struck out four, the side in the seventh.

Grenada is in third place in the division.

“He pitched through some tough situations, I thought, just kept in there,” Grenada coach Jake Yarborough said of Morgan. “He kept throwing strikes, mixing up speeds. His changeup really worked well tonight.”



By Brandon Speck

Daily Journal

Outfielder Harley Tucker is carrying a load for Nettleton’s Lady Tigers. After 14 games, she was hitting a team-high .486 with 18 RBIs. She has five doubles, six triples and a home run.

But the 5-foot-6 junior is shouldering a bigger load than people see on the field.

Tucker is fresh off a gold medal win in Saturday’s MHSAA state powerlifting meet. She finished third last year.

Nettleton coach Dana Rhea speaks highly of her for another accomplishment, her leadership.

“The most obvious thing I’ve seen is her attitude is just awesome,” said Rhea, whose team is 12-4. “She’s done a fine job stepping in and trying to be a leader for the younger ones.

“Her offense this year has been phenomenal and her defense has improved so much that you can really see the desire to be that leader.”

Tucker concurs. She says her growth as a player and as a lifter has been less about the game and more about learning to lead.

At one point, she was one of the younger ones, with the team since sixth grade, watching from the beginning the six-year run of state title series – three wins. She wasn’t just watching and wasn’t just learning how to play.

Pointing the way

“Leadership is the main thing. Being there since I was a manager, you learn from the older ones,” Tucker said. “I just would like to follow in the older one’s footsteps and keep winning state championships and making it there.”

At Mississippi Coliseum, she took first place with an 875-pound total. That number included a 375-pound squat, 150-pound bench and 350-pound deadlift. Only three lifters in Class II totaled more.

“I finally realized that I’m the one that actually has to step up and take the full responsibility of being a leader,” she said, “instead of having to follow.”

Daily Journal file Baldwyn superintendent Ronnie Hill doesn't feel the MHSAA is manipulating tournaments but understands why people have that impression.

Daily Journal file
Baldwyn superintendent Ronnie Hill doesn’t feel the MHSAA is manipulating tournaments but understands why people have that impression.

By Brandon Speck

Daily Journal

Baldwyn superintendent of schools and District I executive committee president Ronnie Hill isn’t accusing the Mississippi High School Activities Association of purposely manipulating games in the state tournament, but he does say recent allegations may have given people that impression.

Hill believes steps need to be taken to reassure the public.

Four referees from at least two tournament games the last two seasons have told the Daily Journal they were told by the MHSAA to protect certain star players from foul calls.

The MHSAA has admitted sending people, including assistant director of athletics Robert Holloway, into the halftime room to speak to its officials, but says it does so to give direction – praise and correction.

MHSAA executive director Don Hinton and Holloway deny the allegations. One official took offense to the denial.

“Their comment of them not coming in there and not saying what they said, him saying it’s not true is a lie,” one referee said of Hinton. “It’s just a lie. Point blank, it’s a lie.”

Hill said it apparently is a common practice in Central and South Mississippi to give guidance at halftimes. It’s not in North Mississippi. That’s why, Hill said, he and three other District I executive committee members met with Hinton last week to discuss the matter. Two committee members from the South were also present at the meeting.

The executive committee has a regularly scheduled meeting today, where the topic, although not likely on the agenda, is expected to discussed.

“If you need to address officials and say ‘Guys, get this under control,’ do it,” Hill said. “But let’s eliminate the middle man and there’s no need to mention numbers.”

One of the middle men in question is Randy Reynolds, who doesn’t have an official title with the MHSAA. Hill said sending a third party to deliver a message is part of the problem.

Hill said mentioning specific players may be automatically causing referees to interpret the message as keeping a better eye on – protecting – individual players.

“According to the people who work at the association, that is not the intent,” Hill said. “I think, again, since we don’t go into dressing rooms (in the North) and people do go in and mention players’ names, they interpret that as intent. I think that’s the problem with it. I don’t think the association’s intent is to tamper with the game.

“I think we can eliminate the names and the numbers to where you don’t give the impression that you’re looking at a particular player.”

But the four referees who’ve spoken to the Daily Journal say there was no confusion on the message and clearly the intent is to protect star players. It’s clearly to keep stars in the game, words they say are very clear from Holloway and Reynolds.

“What’s been said, I’m not saying one person’s right and one person’s wrong and who’s not telling the truth,” Hill said. “I’m just saying that from this point forward, I think we can address what’s being said in there and correct players being identified by name and number.”

Hill didn’t go as far as saying the integrity of the MHSAA has been damaged, but it is on the line.

“That’s the perception, when people hear this and see this, that games are being tampered with,” he said.

“If talking to officials is something that has gone on for 30 years and is going to be continued, we can do that without saying the best player on the team or the number.”

Brandon Speck | Buy at Dillon Davis won a state Class 1A title at 308 pounds for Falkner, a year after a second-place finish.

Brandon Speck | Buy at
Dillon Davis won a state Class 1A title at 308 pounds for Falkner, a year after a second-place finish.

By Brandon Speck

Daily Journal

Falkner’s powerlifting team is growing, by the year.

Sophomores Dillon Davis (308-pound class) and Omar Madrigal (114) are the latest examples, both winning gold in Saturday’s MHSAA state meet.

Davis waited a year to avenge a second-place finish as a freshman.

“It means a lot,” Davis said. “To have that state medal, I’ve worked three years to get it and finally achieved it. It’s a good feeling.”

Madrigal won his class with a 560-pound total. Davis blew everyone out of the water with a total of 1,460 pounds, the second-highest total in 1A and 320 pounds more than second-place finisher Martin Latiker of McAdams.

The one total better came from good friend, Smithville senior Tanner Fears. Fears totaled 1,520 pounds, including a 605-pound deadlift, making the Class 1A North Mississippi lifters the two strongest in the class.

“We thought he might (win),” said Falkner coach Cory Armstrong. “And the guy who beat him last year was returning. He knew he had his work cut out for him and never shorted in the weight room. Every time he goes in, he goes for a purpose. That purpose was Saturday. It’s good to see kids reach their goals. It took him a year to get it.”

Falkner’s team was revived three years ago by now-Amory football coach Ben Ashley. The Eagles had one gold medal winner each of the first two years, two this season. Now they’re making plans for a run at a state championship in 12 months.

At this rate, that’s not out of reach. But like Davis, Falkner may not be satisfied until it happens.

Davis squatted 600 pounds, benched 330 and had a 530-pound deadlift.

“I was setting my goal to win,” he said. “The meet didn’t turn out like I wanted. I wanted to squat 610. I did, but he said I didn’t get low enough. I wanted to bench a little higher, but I’m happy with what I had in deadlift.”



6A: Otis Wilson, Tupelo, 165.

5A: William Paine, Oxford, 220.

4A: Patrick Newell, Pontotoc, 181; Joseph Flanigan, Tishomingo County, 198; Colton Bramlett, Pontotoc, 220; Michael Loyd, Amory, 242; Steven Cook, Lafayette, 275; John Chances, Lafayette, 308; Bailey Wray, Pontotoc, super heavyweight.

3A: Logan Morton, Kossuth, 114; Hunter Switcher, Kossuth, 132; Tyler Lindsey, South Pontotoc, 275; Kenyana Heard, North Pontotoc, 308.

2A: Brandon Taylor, 123, East Union; Brett Rakestraw, East Union, 132; J.R. Ramirez, Bruce, 148; Latrell Marks, Bruce, 165; Jamar Brown, Bruce, 198; Hunter Wigington, East Union, 242; Bryan Wages, East Union, 308.

1A: Omar Madrigal, Falkner, 114; Tanner Fears, Smithville, 242; Dillon Davis, Falkner, 308.


III: None.

II: Molly Sorto, Pontotoc, 132; Qualeah Ezell, Itawamba AHS, 148; Harley Tucker, Nettleton, 181.

I: Laquianna Norris, Calhoun City, 114; Alicia Feliciano, Calhoun City, 123; Landryn Stoddardm, Calhoun City,132; Kiara McKissick, Calhoun City, 165; Courtney Norman, Calhoun City, 220; Jasmine Flemons, Bruce, 220-plus.

mhsaa logo, no bkgdBy Brandon Speck

Daily Journal

Two more Mississippi high school referees are speaking out, confirming the claims of two other officials that the Mississippi High School Activities Association told them during last month’s state basketball tournament to protect certain star players.

Two referees who spoke out last week didn’t know the name of the person they say entered their halftime room and delivered a message that the three-man crew do a better job of making sure a certain player stayed on the floor and not foul out or get too hassled on defense.

Monday, two referees named MHSAA assistant director of athletics Robert Holloway and a man they identify as “Randy” as the two who told them to look out for certain players during the 2013 tournament.

“He came in the dressing room at halftime and said, ‘Did we figure out who the best players on the floor were?’ We all looked at each other. He said, ‘Well, I believe they got three fouls.’ He said we as officials need to try our best to keep the best players in the game, if at all possible,” the referee said.

The referee said the man said he understood if it was a hard foul and couldn’t be avoided.

A second referee in the same game confirmed the meeting and said the two men didn’t come right out and say to give the star special treatment, but the referee said it was implied.

“They asked the question, ‘Have y’all figured out who the best player is?’ We said yeah. He said, ‘Y’all need to make sure she doesn’t pick up a cheap foul to start the second half.’”

The referee said he and his crew should be able to not make contact calls that didn’t affect a shot or a pass or give an advantage to one team. However…

“The problem I have, I think good officials can manage the game,” he said. “But when they’re implying that basically we need to overlook calls, I’ve got a problem with that. Because what we’ve now done is we’ve gone from managing the game to manipulating the game.”

Holloway denied the implication.

“That’s never been the meaning of it,” Holloway said.

Holloway said he probably tells all the officials it’s OK to let east-west stuff go and only call things that affect a play, saying a foul could be called on every play. He said referees should go unnoticed in a game.

“I talk officiating all the time. If I’m at a ballgame, I’ll go in at halftime. We’ll talk about whether you missed that call or whether that was a great call or not, or I saw a couple things we should have gotten… I talk to them pregame, then at halftime.

“But to think that for one minute we would try to manipulate a game for somebody, to me, that’s absurd.”

Both referees, who wish to remain anonymous, have officiated at the high school, junior college, Division II and Division III levels.

The first referee said he didn’t interpret the message to mean not calling a foul on a star, but also said the message was clear.

“He did come in and say, ‘We need to try to keep these players …’ and I know he said it this year, too,” he said.

The second referee said his reaction to the halftime talk was a little bit of anger.

“I earned my way down there,” he said. “I think when we get there, they ought to let us officiate the game based on the fact we earned our way there just like the teams do. I don’t think it’s their job to question calls.

“I think there’s a big difference in managing the game and manipulating the game. I think we’re definitely bordering on the edge of manipulation.”

prep_icon_greenBy Brandon Speck

Daily Journal

Senior-led Pontotoc ended an 11-year title drought with a 32-24 Class 4A team win against Lafayette in Saturday’s MHSAA state powerlifting meet at Jackson’s Mississippi Coliseum.

It took big efforts from seniors Bailey Wray and Colton Bramlett, both winning their third consecutive gold medals and setting record after record along the way.

In the 220-pound class, Bramlett set state class records in squat (680), bench (385) and deadlift (650). His 1,715 total is also a record.

Wray (308-plus) squatted 825 pounds to break his previous 780-pound record. His 425-pound bench set a state record. He deadlifted 655 and set a totals record with 1,905. He set the previous 1,900-pound record.

“I’m extremely proud. Colton and Bailey continue to work hard and encourage these younger guys,” Pontotoc coach J.T. Thompson said. “I had a lot of help, couldn’t have done it without coach Marty Warren and Mickey Mapp.”

Patrick Newell placed first in the 181-pound class with a total of 1,425 pounds, 115 more than second place Quajae Fisher of Corinth.

Braden Duke in the 123-pound class finished third with a personal record total of 850 pounds. In the 132-pound class, Robert Hurd had a personal record of 860. He finished fifth. In the 165-pound class, Rick Campbell finished second with a personal record of 1,220 pounds. Nic Romano finished fifth in the 165-pound class with a 1,085 total.

“We did about as well as we planned on. We didn’t have a perfect meet. We had a couple guys who I think could have done a little better, but we placed about where we had planned on placing,” Thompson said.

The Warriors sent three to the state meet last season, seven this season. Thompson says a lot thanks to the older leadership on the team, Wray, Bramlett and Duke (123).

Campbell and Newell failed to make it out of region last year.

“These younger guys have joined in, bought into the program and worked really hard,” Thompson said. “There’s a lot of young guys coming back. We’re going to miss Colton and Bailey. Extremely proud, the guys have worked hard.”

NeMiss fares well

Oxford won its second straight Class 5A title. William Paine placed first in the 220-pound class with a 1,500-pound total. East Union, behind first-place finishes from Bryan Wages and Hunter Wigington, won its second straight 2A gold.

Calhoun City won its third straight Class I title by 35 points against Bruce and East Union.



By Brandon Speck

Daily Journal

The Mississippi High School Activities Association’s top executive has denied that his organization attempted to protect star players in the recent state basketball championship tournament.

Two Mississippi high school basketball referees, speaking anonymously, told the Daily Journal they were told at halftime of a March state championship game to do a better job of keeping a star player in the game.

One referee said a man came into their halftime room and said he was delivering a message from an MHSAA official, motioning with his hands that the large crowd at Mississippi Coliseum was there to see a certain player and the three-man crew needed to do a better job making sure the player stayed on the floor and not foul out or get too hassled on defense.

“It is not true,” MHSAA executive director Don Hinton said.

Hinton says the association has a director of officials who talks to officials pregame, at halftime and sometimes after the game. He says the meeting may revolve around keeping a game under control between two aggressive teams.

“As far as directing something toward a star player, that’s totally not true,” Hinton said.

One of the referees told the Journal that the three-man crew was told before the game that the crowd would be focused on a certain player and were told where he or she would be called out in the introductions. A fellow referee said a similar halftime conversation took place with him in a different championship game earlier in the championship week.

Members of the District I executive committee had a meeting with Hinton on Monday in Jackson about rumors of the conversation in the referees’ room. Monroe County superintendent Scott Cantrell and Pontotoc principal Paul Henry were among the board members at the meeting.

“We just wanted to make sure Mr. Hinton was aware of what was being said,” Cantrell said.

Hinton says all who participated were pleased with the outcome of the meeting and that the man accused of delivering the message has been cleared.

He said his office has not received a written complaint from a referee.

“We looked into that with that particular director. That did not happen,” Hinton said. “That individual has been working for a long, long time, has had that duty many years. That is not true.”

Hinton says maybe the officials misinterpreted the halftime message, though he says that’s hard to say since he wasn’t in any of the rooms where the alleged conversations took place.

“There was no mention that there was a star player,” Hinton said. “We spoke directly to them, simply a mention of making sure the game is under control. If there was anything done out of the integrity of the MHSAA or any of our schools, we certainly would be taking some kind of action on that.”

But a second referee confirmed that a man came into the room and said he was sent to deliver the message of doing a better job of protecting the player.



By Brandon Speck

Daily Journal

Retired Ingomar coach Norris Ashley’s boys and girls teams won nine MHSAA state basketball championships. He says if the allegations of the protection of star players at the state tournament are true, it may as well be called fixing games.

“You can slice it and dice it and put pepper and salt on it. But it still tastes the same. That’s what it is,” Ashley said. “I’m kind of on the outside and don’t hear all of it. It’s something that needs to be brought out. These kids are living the dream. Then they’re told that you’ve got to protect certain players? To me, it’s a capital offense, nearly.”

Though proving officials changed the way they call a game is difficult – the referees involved in the incidents say they in no way altered their calls – Ashley said you can’t help but wonder about your team’s own games in the tournament.

“I don’t know. I wasn’t in the officials’ dressing room. But now it makes me wonder,” he said. “They might have protected some of my players or some on the other team. I don’t know. It has created … now I’m wondering state tournaments ago, was that fixed?

“This creates a dark cloud. Did the correct team win or the team that was chosen in an office in Jackson win? That’s rotten.”