By Gene Phelps
Michael Ray didn’t get a lot of sleep in the early morning hours of Nov. 2, the day of the MHSAA State Swim Championships.
He started at safety for Tupelo High’s football team the night before in a division game against DeSoto Central in Southaven. The next day, at Delta State University’s Aquatics Center, he was scheduled to swim in three events for the Golden Wave.
“I got about five hours of sleep,” said Ray, a senior. “I had to get up early, shave my legs and that stuff to get ready to swim (in the preliminaries).”
Ray, his body still aching from a night of football, went out and helped Tupelo’s boys capture their seventh straight state championship in the pool.
“In that atmosphere, your adrenaline going, coach calling your name … you really don’t feel anything,” he said.
Ray’s contribution was a victory in the 50-yard freestyle and swimming a leg on the winning 200 medley relay and 200 freestyle relay teams.
Ray’s third leg, the butterfly stroke, in the medley relay gave the Golden Wave its win.
“We were behind and he puts us in the lead,” Tupelo swim coach Lucas Smith said. “You can put him anywhere you want to and tell him to compete … and he’ll do it.”
Success in football
Tupelo football assistant coach Lamar Aldridge praised Ray’s willingness to do whatever it takes.
“He’s a hard-nosed player, a good guy to have,” said Aldridge, the team’s defensive coordinator. “He’s unselfish. He does whatever you ask him to do.”
Ray, who recorded 75 tackles, intercepted two passes and blocked a kick for the state’s top defense, nearly skipped his senior season.
His plan was to concentrate on swimming and baseball, until his mom got a call from a football assistant coach in mid- July wanting to know if her son was planning to participate in summer football workouts.
“I’m so glad I decided to play,” Ray said. “We went all the way, to the championship game. It was really fun to be a part of it.”
Ray’s athletic pursuits didn’t end in December when the Golden Wave lost in the 6A state championship game to Oak Grove. This spring, he’s starting in the outfield for the Golden Wave after leading the team with a .482 batting average in 2013.
“He can do it all for us … hit, run the bases, cover ground in the outfield,” Tupelo baseball coach Gary Enis said in the preseason. “He’s an exceptional athlete.”
Ray’s prowess on the diamond was evident earlier this season in a division game against Hernando. His triple plated three key runs. On the same play, he was thrown out when he attempted to stretch the three-bagger into an inside-the-park grand slam. Many thought he scored on head-first slide at the plate.
Tweeted one enthused observer: “What a freak athlete.”
Ray’s also a talent behind the microphone. He recently was awarded a first-place certificate from the Mississippi Scholastic Press Association as television anchor for THS.