By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
Teneeshia Jones would never become a world-class sprinter by training on the grass football field at Nettleton High School.
Joe Ferguson knew that. That’s why the Lady Tigers coach insisted that Jones and her teammates made the after-hours trek to train on Tupelo High School’s track.
“Coach Ferguson took the time to take us to Tupelo,” said the former high school and Ole Miss track standout. “He was willing to do that for us, especially for me. He saw that I had a future in track.
“He was a coach of a lifetime for me.”
Ferguson, who died March 7, touched many lives during his 26-year coaching tenure – track and basketball – in the Nettleton school district.
“He was always a motivator,” said Jones, who’s now a mental health therapist in Tupelo.
Jones also played basketball on two of Ferguson’s best Nettleton teams. His 1995 squad finished 26-8, won the division champ-ionship and lost in the 2A state tournament semifinals. The Lady Tigers handed eventual 2A state champion Belmont its only two losses that season.
The 1997 Lady Tigers went 31-7 and reached the state championship game.
“He was a tough basketball coach,” Jones said. “He meant business when we were on the court. He was all about dedication, hard work and hustle.
“He told us if we lost it wasn’t going to be because we didn’t hustle.”
The 6-foot-5 Ferguson developed his work ethic playing basketball for Fulton’s East High School.
His physical prowess as a rebounder and defender earned him a scholarship to Mississippi Valley State.
He returned home at Christmas his freshman year to become Itawamba Community College’s first African-American player. His sophomore season he averaged 15.5 points and 12.7 rebounds per game to earn all-state honors.
“I’d watched Joe play for two years at East,” former ICC coach Buster Davis said. “Our board of trustees voted just before Christmas that we would integrate the next year. I said, ‘Why not this year?’
“Joe came here after Christmas and we went 10-3. We were 6-6 before Christmas.”
Ferguson later signed and played two seasons for Mississippi Industrial College in Holly Springs, where he received his degree in degree in health and physical education.
“He was a dream to coach,” Davis said.
Ferguson’s first – and only – job was teaching junior high social studies at Nettleton Junior High.
“Joe was a fixture in Nettleton,” said Larry Williams, the school district’s former superintendent.
Former Nettleton boys basketball coach Jeff Finch took many road trips to ballgames on a yellowdog with Ferguson.
“I always had fun traveling with Joe,” said Finch, who now works in the school system’s central office. “He never met a stranger. He loved basketball. He loved the kids who played for him. He loved life.
“He will be sorely missed.”
Gene Phelps (gene.phelps@Journalinc.com) covers high school athletics for the Journal.