By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
If you’ve ever been caught speeding in North Mississippi, you might know Horace Kitchens, South Pontotoc High School’s soccer coach.
Kitchens worked 24 years with the Mississippi Highway Patrol before retiring in 2009. In 1998, he was honored as Trooper of the Year for his work patrolling the state’s highways.
This year, Kitchens has been honored for directing traffic on Northeast Mississippi’s soccer fields. The coach who led his team to the Class 1A-2A-3A state championship match has been named the 2013 Daily Journal Coach of the Year in girls soccer.
“Coaching high school soccer has been one of the important things in my life,” he said. “I love it. I love being with the kids.”
Kitchens began his coaching career 10 years ago when the school entertained dropping boys soccer because they didn’t have a coach. His son, Chance, was a player.
“I was working as a public affairs officer when I started coaching,” he said. “My supervisor cleared the way. He told me as long as it didn’t interfere with my job, I could coach. He knew I was helping kids.”
Kitchens, with help from the school, community and parents, built the school’s soccer field. They named it, much to his surprise, in his honor.
“I tell people it’s ‘in honor of,’ not in ‘memory of,’ ” Kitchens said, then laughed.
Both his teams, boys and girls, reached the postseason this year. The girls finished 14-6 overall with a loss to Hattiesburg Sacred Heart in the title match.
Two of his daughters, Breanna and Tristan, played for him this season. His oldest daughter, Karley, is a former Lady Cougars player.
“I thought we were capable of winning our division,” Kitchens said of his expectations for this year’s team. “We had a shaky start, but I knew we had a lot of talent and depth.
“We played good teams, which makes you better. I tell the kids to play your best every day. I believe in praying, but not praying to win. I pray for them to play their best.”
They didn’t let him down.