By Brandon Speck/NEMS Daily Journal
ABERDEEN – Aberdeen has spent the better part of the last five seasons scaring opponents.
The Bulldogs went to back-to-back state title games and racked up a few blowout wins along the way.
This summer though, the fear was found in Aberdeen.
The school district was caught up in a state takeover and rumors were out that sports might be punished, possibly by a shortened season without a chance at the playoffs by the Commission on Accreditation.
The district was downgraded to probation, leaving sports untouched.
“I think they all realized that a big part of the community is athletics,” new Bulldogs head coach Mark Bray said. “It’s a big part of these kids. They come up through elementary school seeing what goes on in athletics and want to be a part of it.”
Bob Strebeck was named conservator for the recovering academic district. He made it clear that the community had to be behind the recovery and that athletics was to play a role in the rebuilding.
New principal Desmond Radcliff knows what high-level sports can do for a school as well. He was the principal at 3A football runner-up Hazelhurst last year.
“I’m an outsider but I would say it’s paramount,” said Strebeck, who spent 18 years coaching football and track. “The community rallies around what goes on in this gym and on that football field. But we don’t need to lose sight that we come to school to get an education.”
Bray, also the athletics director, spent 23 successful years at Vardaman before becoming the offensive coordinator here last season.
Before Chris Duncan and the previous staff arrived in 2007, the Bulldogs were 1-19 in two seasons, a 3A pushover. Leadership and a renewed focus changed the culture and the Bulldogs went 54-18, 22-5 in the division.
With the state in command, there won’t be any wasteful spending financially but the district has maintained a focus on athletics, as well as academics.
“I’m thankful. I understand Aberdeen’s history and their love of sports,” Strebeck said. “The students would have been penalized for the lack of leadership of adults.”