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By Gene Phelps
Starkville High School football coach Jamie Mitchell is on vacation this week, but he’s not getting much rest and relaxation.
Mitchell’s thoughts are centered around worries that his Yellow Jackets may not play a home game this season.
The installation of artificial turf at the SHS football stadium has been halted because of a problem with rainwater compromising the surface’s pre-turf base.
While the school district and the contractor work to remedy the situation, the countdown continues toward the Jackets’ scheduled Aug. 22 season opener, at home against Noxubee County.
“I’m concerned we won’t have a stadium this year,” Mitchell said on Thursday. “I can’t tell you how miserable I am.
“We’ve got a team poised to make a great run and looking down the barrel of not having a place to play. It’s disappointing.”
The school district learned of the problem two weeks ago. The contract called for the $1.4 million project to be completed by July 15. An extension was given to the general contractor – Clear River Construction – until July 21, Starkville superintendent of schools, Dr. Lewis Holloway said. The subcontractor for the turf installation itself, Shaw Sports Turf, is not involved with the delay.
“They had the soil compaction done May 21,” he said. “We don’t think they worked fast enough to get the job done. We think they caused this. It met the engineer’s specifications on May 21.”
The contractor wants an additional $177,000 to repair the soil damage so the artificial turf can be installed. The school district stands behind its contract and doesn’t want to pay the additional costs.
“The engineering report supports our position,” Holloway said.
Mitchell said he will meet Monday with school officials to begin looking at alternative sites for its six home football games. East Mississippi Community College, an hour’s drive from Starkville, has an artificial turf field.
“We need to see what options are out there,” Mitchell said. “I would hate to speculate where we would play. We’ve got to look at this short term and long term … and plan for the worst.”
By Gene Phelps
CLINTON – The state’s high school football championship games are moving out of Jackson to campus sites in the northern part of the state starting this season, the Mississippi High School Activities Association announced Monday.
The games in six classifications – 1A through 6A – will be played Dec. 5-6 at Mississippi State’s Davis Wade Stadium. The Bulldogs will also host in 2016.
Ole Miss will host the 2015 and 2017 championship games at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson had been the host site since 1992. That season, Tupelo, led by quarterback Kirk Presley, defeated Hattiesburg to win the Class 5A state championship.
“We want to take our student athletes to the very best venues in the state,” MHSAA executive director Hinton said. “I think championships should be a top five experience of a lifetime.”
Alabama alternates its championship games between Auburn and Alabama, while Louisiana plays its title games in the Louisana Superdome.
Mississippi State athletics director Scott Stricklin praised Hinton for his vision and tweeted: “Great opportunity for MSU and OM to host participating teams and fans. Plus, it gives those young men a chance to participate in an SEC venue.”
Tupelo head coach Trent Hammond, whose Golden Wave played Oak Grove in the 2013 Class 6A state championship game in Jackson, is excited about the change in venues.
“I think this is great,” he said. “A central location is a good thing, but the stadiums (at MSU and Ole Miss) are state-of-the-art stadiums.
“When you play a game of that caliber in that kind of stadium, it has a huge impact on your players.”
Hammond said the move to MSU and Ole Miss also helps with travel for North Mississippi schools.
“I’m excited about not having to make a 31⁄2-hour drive for a state championship game,” said.
The MHSAA and the Mississippi Association of Coaches announced the 2015 and 2017 Alabama/Mississippi All-Star Football Game would be played at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg. The game has been played in Alabama – Mobile and Montgomery – since its inception in 1988.
“It’s good to finally get that game in Mississippi,” said Tupelo’s Hammond, who will be Mississippi’s defensive coordinator for this year’s game in Montgomery, Alabama.
By Gene Phelps
CLINTON – The state basketball tournament’s expanded format – from 36 games to 84 games – forced the Mississippi High School Activities Association to add another venue.
Along with playing games in Jackson’s Mississippi Coliseum, aka “The Big House,” this season’s boys state quarterfinals – 24 games – will be played March 3-7 at Jackson State University’s Athletics and Assembly Center.
The 24 girls quarterfinal games will be March 4-7 at the Coliseum.
The tournament’s boys and girls semifinals and finals, scheduled for March 9-14, will be played in the Coliseum.
“I think it’s a great thing for (JSU),” MHSAA executive director Don Hinton said during a Monday news conference to announce the association’s move of its state championship football games to Mississippi State and Ole Miss. “You’ve got 48 schools coming to their campus.”
Big format change
The new postseason format in basketball eliminates the North and South state tournaments, where teams would all travel to one site for quarterfinals, semifinals and finals.
In Class 5A and 6A, the No. 2 and No. 3 teams coming out of the division tournaments will play. The winner will then play the top-seeded team, which receives a bye.
In Classes 1A-4A, four teams will come out of division play, with the top seeds hosting.
“If you win your division, you’ll play home games until you get to Jackson,” MHSAA associate director Rickey Neaves said. “This will eliminate the North and South tournaments as we know them.
“In the past you’d have eight schools coming to one site. This will cut down on travel and help at the gate. It has to be better.”
Belmont girls basketball coach Chris Higginbottom said he likes the expanded postseason.
“Hopefully, you’ll get the four best teams from the North and South to Jackson,” he said. “In past years we’ve had two good teams in the same bracket and one would be eliminated on Thursday or Friday.
“I think the expanded (postseason) gives more players the opportunity to experience the state tournament. I’m glad it’s going to remain at The Big House because of all the tradition.”
By Gene Phelps
WEST POINT – If anybody knows how T.J. Morgan felt Sunday after losing by one stroke in the MPGA Trustmark Invitational, it’s Eddie Brescher.
Hattiesburg’s Brescher, an assistant golf coach for Southern Miss, fired a steady, five-birdie, no-bogey round Sunday to topple Bruce’s Morgan, who posted three double bogeys and one bogey on his final six holes.
Morgan, a senior on Mississippi State’s golf team, led by six shots headed into Sunday’s final round at Old Waverly.
“This feels a lot better after the heartbreaks I’ve been through,” said Brescher, clutching the trophy. “I’m thrilled because I was a lot back starting the day.
“I’m speechless; this is special.”
Brescher, the defending Trustmark champ, lost this year’s State Amateur in a sudden death playoff at Dancing Rabbit and saw a big lead evaporate on the final day in a 2013 State Am loss at Grand Bear.
Brescher’s winning three-day total was 74-67-67 – 208 while Morgan’s final count was 68-67-74 – 209. Meridian’s Easton Key, an Arkansas State golfer, was third with a 72-69-70 – 210.
Morgan hit his tee shot into the water on 18 and recorded a double bogey. While that was happening, Brescher was on the practice green … waiting.
“I had no clue,” he said. “An official told me to hold on, there might be a playoff. Then I was told I had won.”
Tupelo’s Vince Hodges and Biloxi’s Brandon Laird were tied for fourth at 211 while Old Waverly’s professional Tim Yelverton was sixth at 212 and was the low pro.
Morgan started his day on fire with an eagle from 130 yards on No. 1. He finished the front nine holes with three birdies and at 5-under.
“It’s definitely disappointing,” Morgan said. “I played so well on the front. The penalty shots (on the back) killed me, but that’s part of golf.”
Brescher believed putting was the key to his winning.
“I’ve always struggled to read the greens out here,” he said. “This week that was not the case. I had a real comfort zone on the greens.
“I tried to keep things simple and it worked out.”
By Gene Phelps
WEST POINT – T.J. Morgan’s plans for today’s final round of the MPGA Trustmark Invitational are the same as they were the first two rounds.
Why change? The Mississippi State senior golfer from Bruce takes a 5-stroke lead into today’s final 18 holes. He had seven birdies and recorded a 5-under 67 Saturday on the 7,000-yard Old Waverly course. His two-day score is a 9-under 135.
“I’m going to keep doing the same things,” said Morgan. “I’ll control what I can control and let the rest happen. I’m not going to change how I play.”
The players enjoyed a dry round after enduring a twice rain-delayed opening round Friday. About 30 players in the field had to finish their first round Saturday before the second could start.
Morgan’s challengers will include a former Meridian Community College teammate, Easton Key, and Tupelo amateur Damon Palmer, who both enter the final round at 4-under-par 140.
Key, who plays for Arkansas State, shot a 4-under 68 in the second round with a strong 5-under showing on the back nine. He birdied 10, 12, 13, 14, 15 and 17. However, in an attempt to shoot a 29, he bogeyed 18.
“I wanted to keep it going; I didn’t lack any confidence,” he said.
Amateurs Vince Hodges of Tupelo and defending champion Eddie Brescher of Hattiesburg are joined by professional Tim Yelverton of West Point, the tournament’s low pro, at 3-under 141.
Brescher, an assistant golf coach at Southern Miss, tied Morgan with the day’s best round with his 5-under.
Morgan credits Yelverton and Old Waverly teaching pro V.J. Trolio with helping his game. Morgan says he “struggled” last season, his first with the Bulldogs.
“They’ve helped me a lot with fundamentals and drills,” he said. “They’ve helped me with how to practice. I’ve worked really hard on my swing.”
Morgan had another solid day with his putting, sinking one 20-footer for birdie on No. 7.
By Gene Phelps
WEST POINT – Soaking wet … everything.
That’s the best way to describe Friday’s rain-plagued opening round of the Mississippi PGA’s Trustmark Invitational golf tournament at Old Waverly.
Play in the morning round was delayed for 2 hours, 23 minutes when some of the greens started to hold water. Play resumed at 1:52 p.m., but was halted again at 3:35 by heavy rain and soaked greens. Play resumed for the final time at 4:55.
“Hey, that’s part of golf, you handle what you can handle,” said Bruce’s T.J. Morgan, who is the leader in the clubhouse with a 4-under-par 68.
Morgan, whose round included five brides and one eagle, said keeping his hands dry was difficult. “That was the toughest thing. You hit the shot and accept the result,” he said. “I hit it OK today, but it wasn’t like I was striking every shot. I just made putts.”
Biloxi’s Brandon Laird shot a 2-under 70 to hold second place. A group of three players are tied for third at even par: Tupelo’s Vince Hodges and Damon Palmer, and Meridian’s Easton Key.
Remaining play in the first round will be completed this morning, with the second round to follow.
A rising senior on Mississippi State’s golf team, Morgan – the 2010 MHSAA Class 2A medalist – started his round at 8:50 a.m. and finished at 5:15 p.m. He had eagled 15 and birdied 16 before play was stopped the second time. When he returned for his final two holes, he bogeyed 17.
“I was worried about keeping it going,” Morgan said. “I would say that was the only time (a delay) affected me.”
Tupelo Country Club pro Chris Harder, who finished his round with a 6-over-par 78, called the conditions “nearly unplayable” on the 7,000-yard layout.
“There was water everywhere. You couldn’t take relief from it,” he said. “Everything’s wet; you just have to deal with it.”
Defending champion Eddie Brescher, an assistant golf coach for Southern Miss, recorded a 2-over-par 72 and is tied for ninth.
“It was extremely difficult to play,” he said, referring to the steady rain. “The hardest part was just trying to hold your club. They’re wet; it’s tough.”
By Gene Phelps and Brandon Speck
The Mississippi High School Activities Association is expected to announce Monday that the high school football state championships will be moved from Jackson to state college stadiums starting this season.
Mississippi State will host the six championship games at Davis Wade Stadium this season and in 2016, while Ole Miss’ Vaught-Hemingway Stadium would be the host facility in 2015 and ’17. There is a possibility that Southern Miss would host in 2018 at M.M. Roberts Stadium.
A source told the Daily Journal there had been talk of MSU and Ole Miss hosting the state title games six consecutive seasons, with the school not hosting the Egg Bowl hosting the high school games.
The Ole Miss-MSU game will be played in Oxford this season.
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said he believes hosting the championships is a positive for his program and school.
“This is just another chance for us to show off what we think is one of the most beautiful campuses in America and our facilities, which we think are comparable to any in the nation,” Freeze told reporters at SEC Media Days. “It’s a chance to get those teams on our campus, and it helps not only with us in recruiting but just our general student body in recruiting also.”
Southern Miss is scheduled to host the Alabama/Mississippi All-Star Football Game in 2015 and ’17, alternating with Montgomery, Ala., as the host spot. The game has been played in Alabama, starting in Mobile, since its inception.
Starkville High coach Jamie Mitchell is excited about the games being moved to the colleges. Alabama plays its championship games at Auburn and Alabama, alternating around the Iron Bowl.
“My coaching buddies in Alabama like playing games at Auburn and Alabama,” he said. “In the end, we’re trying to win a championship, no matter where it’s played.”
The MHSAA is also expected to announce it’s moving part of its 2015 state basketball tournament to Jackson State’s arena. The reason is the recent expansion of the state tournament field.
JSU would likely host 24 boys opening-round games, while the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson would host 24 girls games. The tournament’s boys and girls semifinals and finals would all be played in the Coliseum.
By Gene Phelps
TUPELO – The new Tupelo Aquatic Center will become the center of the state’s swimming universe this week when it hosts the Mississippi Swim Association’s Long Course State Championships.
The four-day meet is scheduled to begin this morning with the age 8-under state championship meet. The state meet for the remaining age divisions – 10-under, 11-12, 13-14 and 15-over – will begin tonight.
The preliminaries will be held Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings while the consolation and finals each day will start at approximately 5 p.m.
“It’s a big deal to host this meet,” Tupelo Shockwave coach Lucas Smith said. “We’ll have swimmers from 15 to 20 teams here competing. I’m excited for our community.”
Tupelo last hosted the state long course meet at Rob Leake City Park pool in 1996. The Shockwave’s last state championship in long course came in 2009.
The swimming facility hosted the state short course meet and a regional masters swim meet earlier this year and more plans are ahead. Last month, the Mississippi High School Activities Association awarded its 2015 State Swim Championships to Tupelo. Earlier this year, it was announced Tupelo would host the Southern Zone Age Group Championships July 28-Aug. 2, 2015.
“It’s a fast pool,” Smith said. “The racing will be really fast. It’s a championship facility.”
Some of the top entries joining the Shockwave will be Delta, Biloxi, Hattiesburg, Columbus and three teams from Jackson. The Shockwave team is made up of Tupelo, Oxford and Starkville swimmers.
“This is your state championship and it pretty much signals the end of the season,” Smith said. “Swimmers will be able to qualify for nationals with times in this meet.”
The pool setup will be eight lanes and 50 meters, an Olympic-style course. There is no limit to how many swimmers a team can enter in an event. The top 16 will score and move on.
By Gene Phelps
Laurie Bishop was excited and honored this spring when she received notification she had been selected to coach in this week’s annual Mississippi Association of Coaches All-Star Volleyball Game.
Imagine Bishop’s surprise when she learned a few months later she had been selected to coach in this week’s annual MAC All-Star Tennis Tournament, too.
“It was quite interesting when I got the email about tennis,” Tupelo High’s volleyball and tennis coach said. “I thought, did they get this right?”
Bishop contacted the MAC to make sure they knew she had been selected to coach both all-star events: volleyball (Wednesday) and tennis (Thursday).
“They said it would be fine,” she said. “I don’t know if they’ve ever done this before.”
Bishop, who will be assisted by her husband, Braden, in volleyball, will practice her North all-star volleyball team tonight and Wednesday morning prior to the 6 p.m. match at Millsaps College in Jackson.
Her tennis assistant coach, East Webster’s Pam Champion, will practice the North tennis team Wednesday prior to its 1 p.m. Thursday matches at Bridges Tennis Center in Jackson.
“A lot of decisions have to be made when coaching volleyball,” Bishop said. “Tennis is not as involved. You don’t have a rotation. Everybody plays singles and doubles.”
The two Northeast Mississippi players – both rising seniors – on the North volleyball roster are Tupelo’s Georgeanna Bowen and Starkville’s Khristian Carr.
“It will be exciting to coach (volleyball) with and against players we’ve played against,” Bishop said. “The South team is very talented.”
The North leads the volleyball series 5-4, but lost last year’s match 2-1. The match will be streamed live at www.mscoaches.com.
The North tennis roster is loaded with area players who graduated in May: Samuel Butler, East Webster; Robert Jones, Mooreville; Brandon Nhek, Corinth; Mark Robbins, New Albany; Robert Thompson, Tupelo; Emily Carter, Tupelo; Ivy Roberts, Pontotoc; Kara Rose, Oxford and Emily Turner, Starkville.
Tupelo High School bowling coach Susan Dudley announced Tuesday she has resigned after 10 years and winning 10 state championships in boys (six) and girls (four) bowling.
The Golden Wave and Lady Wave won MHSAA Class II state championships this season.
“I will continue to follow the kids and the high schools with bowling teams,” Dudley said. “They will always have a special place in my heart.”