Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Rick Cleveland: Hometown teams

Mississippi is a state of cities, towns and communities that rally around Hometown Teams. One example follows:

Roy Oswalt, retired from Major League baseball stardom, lives in the metropolis of Starkville now, but he grew up in the small town down Highway 12 called Weir, pronounced where, home to about 500.

Until Choctaw County schools consolidated in 2013, Weir was a small school football powerhouse, winning Class 1A State Championships the way Alabama dominates in the SEC. Oswalt, himself, played wide receiver and defensive back on state championship football teams.

“In Weir, you played football; that's what you did,” Oswalt once told me. “You grew up going to those games on Friday night and you couldn't wait to be out there on that field yourself.”

That doesn't exactly differentiate Weir from a lot of small-town Mississippi communities, where football is king and Friday nights are challenged only by Sunday mornings as religious experiences. Weir was just better at football than most. Weir seemed to specialize in 140-pound linebackers who would knock you into next week.

Oswalt was different in one respect from most Weir Lions. He had this magical arm hanging off his right shoulder that could throw baseballs like a rifle shoots bullets. Until Oswalt came along, Weir had no baseball team. That changed. An arm like his needed a team. But first, it needed a baseball diamond. Weir created one. Oswalt's father, a logger by trade, cleared the land for the field. The Weir citizenry chipped in. So Weir had a baseball field and a baseball team, and Roy Oswalt went on to become one of America's greatest pitchers, the most famous citizen in Weir history.

You couldn't make up a story like this, yet Mississippi is full of them. America is full of them. The Smithsonian Institution, our national museum, recognizes this, recognizes hometown sports teams are the thread that runs through small-town America, a huge part of our social fabric. Sports have reflected the trials and triumphs of the American experience and helped shape our national character. That's why the Smithsonian commissioned a traveling exhibit called “Hometown Teams” to celebrate sports as an indelible part our culture and community.

“Hometown Teams” explores this integral part of American life and “Hometown Teams” will tour Mississippi beginning this week and for the remainder of 2016.

The exhibit, brought here by the Mississippi Humanities Council, begins its Magnolia State tour this week in the place where Mississippi's sports history is celebrated and always on display: the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum. Following six weeks (March 18-April 30) in Jackson, Hometown Teams will visit Natchez and the Historic Natchez Foundation (May 5-June 26), Amory Regional Museum (June 30-August 5), Gulfport's Lynn Meadows Discovery Center (August 13-Sept. 24), Delta State University (Oct. 1-Nov. 12) and Corinth Public Library (Nov. 19-Dec. 31).

Each host site is charged with putting together programs and exhibits, which feature hometown teams unique to those locations.

In a half century of covering sports in Mississippi, this writer has seen first-hand the galvanizing effect of sports and hometown teams, from Little League, to high schools, to collegiate sports and beyond. I've followed the Payton brothers of Columbia, the Short brothers of Hattiesburg, the Manning family of Drew, the inimitable Ralph Boston of Laurel and so many others. I watched Charlie Hayes play in the World Series, but before that I saw him play for a Hattiesburg team in the Little League World Series when his glove was almost as big as he was. Where but Mississippi could produce the likes of Money's Willye B. White, who won a high school track meet by herself at age 11 and a silver medal in the Olympics at age 16? She competed in five different Olympics, the only American track and field athlete to have done so.

Stories like these exist all over America, although I would venture none are more special than ours. Hometown Teams: They are part of what makes Mississippi Mississippi and America America.

Rick Cleveland is a syndicated columnist and historian at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum. His email address is


Anonymous said...

Great work Rick.

Anonymous said...

Sports played a major role in bringing the races together in Mississippi. This is true both at the High School and College levels. Sports healed a lot of wounds.

Anonymous said...

Amen 9:17! Team sports help reconciliation.

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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