Richard Williams, right, talks with Henry Watts during the Reunion of the 70s event at the Vue Hotel Saturday evening. Williams, a graduate and former coach of South Natchez High School, is the only coach to lead Mississippi State to the NCAA Final Four. (Justin Sellers \ The Natchez Democrat)
Richard Williams, right, talks with Henry Watts during the Reunion of the 70s event at the Vue Hotel Saturday evening. Williams, a graduate and former coach of South Natchez High School, is the only coach to lead Mississippi State to the NCAA Final Four. (Justin Sellers \ The Natchez Democrat)

Local legends attend reunion

Published 12:01am Sunday, July 14, 2013

NATCHEZ — Natchez resident Brad Fondren hadn’t see his old football coach in several years, so when Roy Garcia stepped into the Vue Hotel Friday evening, Fondren was quick to approach one of the men he grew up admiring.

“This is one of the finest men I ever met in my life,” Fondren said as he shook Garcia’s hand.

Garcia, the former Cathedral High School football coach and athletic director, was one of several local sports icons to attend the Reunion of the 70s event at the Vue Friday and Saturday. Some of the names include former CHS football coach Ken Beesley, former Adams County Christian School headmaster Buddy Wade and former South Natchez and Mississippi State basketball coach Richard Williams.

Matilda Stephens, one of the three founders of the event, said the reunion was geared toward reuniting elementary school students from the 70s who went to different schools as they grew older. It was the second time to host the event, with the first one happening three years ago.

Former Cathedral High School athletic director Roy Garcia, center, shakes hands with former state senator Bob Dearing, left, while conversing with him and Daye Dearing, right, about Delta State University Friday evening at the Reunion of the ‘70s at the Vue Hotel. (Michael Kerekes \ The Natchez Democrat)
Former Cathedral High School athletic director Roy Garcia, center, shakes hands with former state senator Bob Dearing, left, while conversing with him and Daye Dearing, right, about Delta State University Friday evening at the Reunion of the ‘70s at the Vue Hotel. (Michael Kerekes \ The Natchez Democrat)

“When you’re trying to capture 10 years (of relationships), the challenge is to find people,” Stephens said. “You’re talking thousands of people to get names and contact information on, so we relied heavily on Facebook and word of mouth.”

And including people like Garcia, who helped mold young men through their coaching, was important, Stephens said.

“A lot of guys were shaped by the men in their lives in that generation,” Stephens said. “What they gave back is way more profound than skills on the field or court. The impact they had is tremendous — they taught life lessons.”

Garcia, who moved to McKinney, Texas, five years ago, said returning for the reunion was just like homecoming after working at Cathedral for 40 years.

“There’s no place like home, and Natchez is home,” Garcia said. “It’s always a pleasure to come back and see all my friends. I tell people that Natchez is so unique in so many ways, and I still love my students. Natchez is a family-oriented community.”

Garcia was only able to attend the event Friday, and he said one of the main reasons was the chance to see former South Natchez High School football coach Ed Reed. Reed was ultimately unable to attend because of a sickness in his family.

“We go back a long ways,” Garcia said. “He was the coach who inspired me to be a coach.”

Like Reed was to Garcia, Fondren said Garcia has made a lasting impact on his life.

“He was a big influence on mine and a lot of children’s lives — with all classes,” Fondren said. “He came to see all of his old students and people he coached, so I hope to visit with him a lot this weekend.”

Williams, who was head basketball coach at South Natchez from 1973-79, said it was great to be back in town to see old faces and places.

“We rode around a bit (Saturday) to see our old house, so that was fun,” Williams said. “I even found the house I lived in with three other coaches when I first moved here.”

As men’s basketball coach at MSU from 1986 to 1998, Williams led the Bulldogs to a Final Four appearance in 1996. But Williams said he felt like just another former Natchez resident when he visited Saturday.

“I hope I just fit in,” Williams joked. “I don’t feel different (than the others), just older.”

It was the second time for Williams to visit for the Reunion of the 70s, and Williams said it was a much happier occasion than the last couple of times he was in town. The last few times it was to bury several of his former players, so Williams said he would enjoy the upbeat atmosphere — but only for one night.

“As old as I am, two nights of partying may be a bit much,” Williams joked.

Stephens said money raised by the event that doesn’t go toward vendors would be donated to three local charities: Pleasant Acre Day School, the Guardian Shelter and the George W. Armstrong Library. Three years ago, the event raised approximately $12,000 for charity.

The good causes and the friendships to be made — and rekindled — are the event’s two main attractions, Stephens said.

“It gives people a chance to not only give back to the community, but to establish old friendships and make new ones,” Stephens said.

The reunion will conclude today with a Sunday brunch from 9-11 a.m., followed by a lake party at Lake St. John from 1-5 p.m.