Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Rick Cleveland: Remembering Bert Jenkins

Hall of Famer Bert Jenkins, perhaps the best coach I ever covered and certainly in the top two or three, was not a screamer. Hollering and yelling – and certainly cussing — weren't necessary for this gentleman/coach to make his points.

Nevertheless, Jenkins, the legendary Gulfport basketball coach, enforced firm rules, all based on what was good for the team. He was a disciplined man, teacher and coach, who demanded discipline from his players. You don't win 83 percent of your games over 27 years without discipline.

Jenkins, who died last week at age 90, coached through the '60s and '70s when teens made challenging discipline something of an art form.

“I used the bench,” Jenkins once confided when asked how he kept order. “I always had a seat for a player who didn't follow the rules. You know, all kids are uniquely different but there's one constant. They all want to play. If you want to get their attention, find them a seat on the bench.”

As Bob Knight, who has an entirely different personna, once put it, “It's amazing how quickly a message gets from a player's buttocks to his brain.”

Sometimes, benching a player is difficult, especially when the player you are sitting is the best player in the gym. Jenkins never wavered. He understood: You have to be disciplined to teach discipline. You must be consistent, no matter what. Playing sports, especially a team sport, is a privilege, not a right, Jenkins firmly believed.

Never was that more challenged than in the 1981-82 season. Gulfport was playing in a Thanksgiving tournament at Mobile. One of Jenkins' best players directly disobeyed Jenkins, broke a cardinal rule and cost the team the game.

Jenkins never hesitated. He dismissed the youngster from the team. A couple days later, 10 players, practically the entire varsity, boycotted practice in support of their ousted teammate, breaking another cardinal rule.

Once again, Jenkins never hesitated. All were dismissed. Jenkins knew what was coming. He knew the proud Gulfport program, which he had built, was about to become a whipping post. A winning program was about to lose.

But this was a point that had to be made, no matter what, Jenkins believed.

A day or two later, several players asked to come back. No, Jenkins said, rules are rules. We will play without you. Lindy Callahan, the Gulfport athletic director, supported Jenkins. So did the Gulfport School Board.

Parents of the dismissed players challenged Jenkins' authority in court. This went on for weeks. In the end, the judge ruled in favor of Jenkins and Gulfport High: Playing high school sports is a privilege, not a right, the judge said.

Sound familiar?

Says the retired Callahan, a national force in high school athletics, “It set a precedent and has been used in case after case across the country. It has become one of the guiding principles of high school athletics in this nation.”

The Gulfport B-team played out that season, finishing with a 12-19 record, 4-17 after the walkout. It is the only losing season of Jenkins' Hall of Fame career, but perhaps the season that most defined him as a coach.

“Bert always said what he meant and meant what he said; there were no exceptions,” said Gerald Austin, his long-time assistant and the man who succeeded him at Gulfport. “We took our lumps that season, but the boys kept learning and getting better. Bert never second-guessed himself. He knew he was doing what had to be done.”

The next season? Why, Gulfport won the state championship, one of Jenkins' seven, as if Bert Jenkins needed any further evidence that what he had done what was in the best interest of the players, the school, the sport and, most of all, the team.


Rick Cleveland ( is executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We natives of Gulfport are very proud to have known Bert Jenkins.

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Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).

Meet KIM Waaaaaade at the Entergy Tent. For five pesos, Kim will sell you a chance to win a deed to a crack house on Ridgeway Street stuffed in the Howard Industries pinata. Don't worry if the pinata is beaten to shreds, as Mr. Wade has Jose, Emmanuel, and Carlos, all illegal immigrants, available as replacements for the it. Upon leaving the Entergy tent, fig leaves will be available in case Entergy literally takes everything you have as part of its Trollfest ticket price adjustment charge.

Donna Ladd of The Jackson Free Press will give several classes on learning how to write. Smearing, writing without factchecking, and reporting only one side of a story will be covered. A donation to pay their taxes will be accepted and she will be signing copies of their former federal tax liens. Ms. Ladd will give a dramatic reading of her two award-winning essays (They received The Jackson Free Press "Best Of" awards.) "Why everything is always about me" and "Why I cover murders better than anyone else in Jackson".

In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.

In order to help clean up the legal profession, Adam Kilgore of the Mississippi Bar will be giving away free, round-trip plane tickets to the North Pole where they keep their bar complaint forms (which are NOT available online). If you don't want to go to the North Pole, you can enjoy Brant Brantley's (of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance) free guided tours of the quicksand field over by High Street where all complaints against judges disappear. If for some reason you are unable to control yourself, never fear; Judge Houston Patton will operate his jail where no lawyers are needed or allowed as you just sit there for minutes... hours.... months...years until he decides he is tired of you sitting in his jail. Do not think Judge Patton is a bad judge however as he plans to serve free Mad Dog 20/20 to all inmates.

Trollfest '09 is a pet-friendly event as well. Feel free to bring your dog with you and do not worry if your pet gets hungry, as employees of the Jackson Zoo will be on hand to provide some of their animals as food when it gets to be feeding time for your little loved one.

Relax at the Fox News Tent. Since there are only three blonde reporters in Jackson (being blonde is a requirement for working at Fox News), Megan and Kathryn from WAPT and Wendy from WLBT will be on loan to Fox. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both and a torn-up Obama yard sign will entitle you to free drinks served by Megan, Wendy, and Kathryn. Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required. Just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '09 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS.

Trollfest '07

Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS