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Natchezians honored at Copiah-Lincoln

wesson — It was a strange moment for Natchez-native Henry Harris when his name was announced over the public address system at Copiah-Lincoln Community College’s homecoming football game Oct. 20.

Harris — along with two other Natchez-natives — was honored as one of the first black athletes to don a Wolfpack jersey. But when his name was called, and everyone in the stadium turned their attention toward him, he noticed just how things have changed since his playing days in the early 70s.

“When we became the first African-American players at Co-Lin it was 95 percent white, and now the football team is 95 percent black,” Harris said. “When they announced me, all the football players turned around to look at me, and it was kind of a weird moment.”

Harris was recognized with eight other Co-Lin players, including Natchez-natives Leonard Frazier and Leroy Chatman during the festivities. But the players’ careers at Co-Lin were not always received with praise and applause.

“We were kind of nervous back in 1970,” Chatman said. “We were staying in dormitories, and sometimes we would get words from different fellows telling you about how you couldn’t make the team and stuff like that.

“And then you saw some fellows who couldn’t make the team because of where they came from, but we just stayed in there.”

Harris likened his experience playing college football to some of the scenes in the movie “Remember the Titans,” in which a high school football coach tried to get a group of players from different backgrounds to play together.

“I had never played football with white kids other than sandlot, and I’m sure the white kids had never played football with black kids,” Harris said. “The coaches did their part to put us together and work as a team, and we did.”

Harris was a linebacker at Sadie V. Thompson High School before moving to receiver at Co-Lin. He said he would have played any position the coaches wanted him to play.

“It was either stay in school and learn how to catch the ball or go to Vietnam,” he said.

Shifting from Sadie V. Thompson to Co-Lin was a change in itself for Harris as well.

“You were used to going to a school that was all black, and then you switched to a school that was predominantly white,” he said. “I had to learn what’s going on, and try to fit in.”

Chatman’s abilities on the football field also earned him an opportunity to participate in other sports at Co-Lin.

“One of my favorite memories is when they found out I ran track also and then they asked for some help,” he said. “I ran those track races and set some records. I made All-State on that.”

Harris and Chatman said the game of football has definitely changed from their playing days. Harris said the game has gotten softer, but the players are much bigger and more athletic.

“Now these guys are faster, and they are very big,” he said. “I weighed 145 pounds when I made it to Co-Lin and had medium speed.”

The Wolfpack lost their homecoming matchup with Mississippi Gulf Coast 54-21 in front of the nine former legends, but Harris said he is glad Co-Lin has had a good season — 7-2 overall.

Chatman said he expects the players to continue to reunite each season.

“We want to try to have a class reunion thing and getting together ever year,” he said. “It all goes back to Co-Lin, and we get together and try to find out where they all are. I thought it was a good thing, and it made you feel good.”