By John Wilbert/NEMS Daily Journal
INGOMAR – After open-heart surgery last July, high school coaching veteran Norris Ashley had gotten used to relaxing at home.
But the Ingomar basketball coach couldn’t quite give up coaching. He realized that there was a group of high school students who needed him.
Ingomar’s Zach Carnell, Tyler Jarvis, Clay Kidd, Tyler McCay and Matt Purvis were entering their final season of high school basketball.
“I realized that I had a group of guys over here that had been waiting for this year for a long time, and they didn’t need a new coach to come in,” the 62-year-old Ashley said of this year’s seniors. “I felt like if things clicked they would be awfully good.”
Those five seniors and Ashley would go on to win 30 games and the MHSAA Class 1A state championship.
‘Their first love’
“I felt like they were committed to basketball,” Ashley said. “It was their first love, and probably their only love for some of them.
“I couldn’t let them down. I felt like I could help them more than hurt them.”
He certainly helped as the Falcons won their state semifinal and championship games by double digits.
Because he led Ingomar, a K-12 school with an enrollment of some 620 students, to its fifth boys state title – all won under his direction – Ashley has been chosen as the 2009-10 Daily Journal Boys Coach of the Year.
His 39th season at Ingomar, which could be his last, marks the third time he’s been named the Boys Coach of the Year.
Mississippi’s winningest high school coach (1,664 career wins as a boys and girls coach combined), Ashley was also the Girls Coach of the Year for three seasons in the ’90s.
“I want to say he was calmer this year,” Carnell said. “He got uptight a little bit more in the important games because it’s possibly his last year. I don’t know whether it will be or not, but I feel like it will be.
“You could tell his drive to win was more intense this year than it has been in the past. In some games he was calmer, and he knew that we had the experience and we could take care of it ourselves, I guess, and didn’t have to stay on us.”
In February, Ashley had hinted at not returning to the sidelines after this season. The boys program faces a tremendous rebuilding task, and Ashley isn’t sure if he has it in him to go through another rebuilding process.
“My health has gotten a whole lot better and my attitude’s gotten better,” Ashley said Thursday afternoon, “so I guess I’m wavering a little bit. …
“I still got a really good taste in my mouth right now. Of course it was a perfect year for us from a lot of standpoints. No problems on the court, no problems off the court with the players.
“So I’m pulling a Brett Favre still. … It’s still enjoyable. I still enjoy it and I still like to teach the game.”