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Smith Column: Call Wright a good man, good coach

April 26, 2011

By DANNY P. SMITH
Sports Editor
sdnsports@bellsouth.net

One word can be used to describe former Starkville High School football coach Willis Wright. Good.
On Thursday, Wright will be honored with a "roast" at the Batesville National Guard Armory. The 6 p.m. event is being held to raise money for two fundraisers in the Panola County area.
No doubt, there will be various coaches, former players and other friends speaking up about how much Wright means to them.
On the heels of that special event, I decided to get a jump start by expressing some of my thoughts on Wright here.
Wright was the football coach of the Yellowjackets while I was making my way through the education system at SHS.
As a senior, I joined the journalism staff of the Hi-Jacket and began my responsibility of reporting on sports stories with the school.
Two of the coaches who were the most helpful in that endeavor where Wright and girl's basketball coach Glenn Schmidt.
If it had not been for those two individuals and the experiences of covering their teams in high school, I may not have ever had the motivation to continue in the field that I enjoy today.
Wright, who had a career record of 51-10 during his time with the Jackets, was in the midst of leading Starkville to another successful season in 1983, but he took the time out of his busy schedule to make a student reporter feel important.
He gave very informative interviews and encouraged me to come out to practices with a camera to take pictures.
It was definitely a good team to follow.
After a season where the Jackets finished with a 7-3 record and just missed out on the playoffs, a much better season was expected in 1983.
Starkville began the season with a 14-14 tie against Neshoba Central, a team which is nice to once again see on the SHS schedule for next season, then it pulled off victories against Columbus Caldwell, Louisville, Greenville Weston, West Point, Indianola Gentry, Noxubee County and Columbus Lee.
Wright built a team behind a trio of running backs in Kenny Rogers, Marcus Bush and David Fair who used a solid offensive line. Starkville also had a very stout defense.
The Jackets lost regular season games to West Jones and Tupelo, but got revenge by beating the Golden Wave in the playoffs to advance to the North State championship.
Starkville earned the North crown with a win against Southaven, but came up just short of the state title by dropping a disappointing 6-0 decision to Moss Point on a rainy night in Jackson.
Even though the Jackets lost one of their running backs to graduation, Bush and Fair returned for Wright the next season to lead SHS to the state championship by beating Meridian. Even though I had graduated as well, it was good to see the Jackets reward Wright for his leadership and gave him a state championship.
Winning state titles became a common thing for Wright, once he started coaching in Panola County at South Panola and North Delta Academy. He's considered to be the "father" of what has become a dynasty at South Panola and helped a winless North Panola team in 1999 to a state championship.
Wright's other coaching stops have been Saltillo, Nettleton, Drew, Greenville, Ala., and Carroll Academy.
For anyone in the Starkville area who remembers fondly the time Wright spent here and would like to be present at the "roast," tickets should still be available from the Panola Partnership by calling 662-563-3126.

Danny P. Smith is sports editor and columnist for the Starkville Daily News. The opinions in this column are his and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Daily News or its staff.

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