By Parrish Alford

Daily Journal

If you’re trying to find the determining factor in Tupelo High School’s first powerlifting state championship, Pat Berry has an idea.

Try clean living.

“It was just working hard and eating right,” said Berry.

Mothers everywhere would be proud.

Working hard, eating right and according to coach Lamar Aldridge, most importantly focus were all factors in a state title which has eluded the Golden Wave the last two years. Tupelo finished fourth in 1995 and second in 1994.

“These guys just never quit,” said Aldridge.

The Wave never quit because of Aldridge’s constant urging. These lifters needed their spirits lifted after a second place finish at the division meet and a third place finish at the North Half meet.

Through the first two postseason meets Tupelo saw its team members drop from 10 to six, as two failed to qualify for the North Half and two more failed to qualify for state.

But the six-man unit Berry, Tony Dancer, Mark Cannon, Sammy Brooks, Marcus Bell and Jovan Listenbee had enough for 27 points, one better than second place Grenada at the state meet at Madison Central last weekend. Grenada was the 1995 champion.

“At the North Half meet we were probably the top team on paper,” Aldridge said. “But we got third down there (at Aberdeen). I realized at the district meet (at Tupelo) that even though we lost we had the potential still to score a lot of points.

“But after they got second in district I had to convince them of that.”

There are no separate classifications in the hunt for the powerlifting championship. It’s 80 schools going for one title, come one, come all.

“You’d think it was easy, but it’s very competitive. No other sport has 80 teams after one championship. You can have a small school with three or four good lifters, and that might be enough to knock your guys down.”

Aldridge knew the competitive field and knew he had to somehow lift his lifters’ spirits.

“Coming back from the North Half I looked over at Sammy (Brooks) and said, ‘We’ve still got a chance,'” Aldridge said, almost pleading.

“Coach Aldridge just stayed on us like a parent,” said sophomore Mark Cannon, who won the 148-pound class with a total lift of 1,150 pounds. “He stayed on us day in and day out in practice, making sure we got all of our lifts in.”

Cannon and Berry were the only first place finishers. Berry set meet records for total lift (1,530), dead lift (630) and bench press (330). The dead lift and bench marks he broke were his own. Berry had a dead lift of 606 last year and a bench press of 320.

Berry wasn’t surprised by his personal success at the state meet.

“I had been doing better than last year since this season began,” he said. “I knew I had a chance to set some records.”

Berry’s lift came in the 242 pound class. While Berry moved up, Jovan Listenbee dropped from the 242 to the 220 class. Aldridge shuffled his lineup with some 11th hour running and swimming at the hotel pool in Jackson.

“I figured Pat would win in either class,” he said.

True to his coach’s word, Berry carried a big load for the Golden Wave, but everyone pulled their weight.

“All six of our guys placed in the top four,” Aldridge said. “There is some strategy to this. You’ve got to watch the guys around you, and you can mess up and miss a lift if you’re not careful.”

Under Aldridge’s watchful eye, the Wave lifters were careful. Senior Sammy Brooks was second in the 148-pound class with an 1,140-pound total. Tony Dancer’s total of 790 earned him third in the 123-pound class, while Marcus Bell was third in the 181-pound class at 1,205. Jovan Listenbee was fourth in the 220-pound class with a 1,310 total.

“With 80 schools it’s tougher to win (state) in powerlifting than a lot of other things. But these guys were just prepared and never quit.”

Despite Aldridge’s confidence that inner belief didn’t quite hit home for the Wave until half-way through the state meet.

“When we finished second in the district meet, everybody was a little down,” Cannon said. “But after the smaller guys lifted in the state meet we knew we had a chance. We were just depending on our bigger guys to come through.

“Coach Aldridge stayed on us (after district) and kept telling us we had a chance. All the hard work paid off.”

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