Colonels rode Porter’s arm to top

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 9, 2000

Joey Porter stood 5-foot-8 and weighed 135 pounds in high school. But he stood much taller than that on the football and baseball fields.

&uot;Joey had a lot of heart, and he was just gutsy,&uot; said Buddy Wade, who coached Porter in ninth grade football and had Porter as an assistant coach in baseball. &uot;He was mighty small, but he would go out there on the mound and throw the fastball and curve ball for strikes. And he was cool under pressure.&uot;

Porter helped the South Natchez football team to a 9-1 season as a junior and 10-1 as a senior, executing the Notre Dame Box to perfection from his tailback position.

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As a pitcher, Porter was 20-3 over three seasons, setting a national high school record by allowing no runs for the most consecutive games and innings. He helped lead the Colonels to the state championship in 1973.

Porter’s accomplishments are certainly well remembered by The Democrat readers, who voted the current Columbia High coach as the second-best athlete of the 1900s. Tony Byrne was the top vote-getter. Former Natchez High star running back Perry Lee Dunn was voted third.

Porter played football, basketball and baseball at Natchez High and South Natchez from 1969-73.

Porter, who carried a 3.5 grade point average in school, was nifty at running the Notre Dame Box from his tailback position. As a junior, he led the Colonels to a 12-7 win over Archbishop Rummel in the prestigious Shrimp Bowl in 1971. Porter was named Most Outstanding Player in the game.

Porter helped lead South Natchez to a 9-1 season his junior year and 10-1 as a senior, receiving the Golden Helmet Award. The Colonels’ only loss was to Gulfport in the Shrimp Bowl.

Porter helped the Colonels to the state championship in baseball in 1973, allowing only 19 hits. He did not give up an earned run the entire regular season.

Porter started playing varsity baseball when he was attending Morgantown in the ninth grade. South Natchez then was the Natchez High Chiefs before integration around Christmas of 1969 established South Natchez and North Natchez high schools.

&uot;I would ride the bus every day from Morgantown to baseball practice,&uot; Porter said. &uot;It was a good experience playing the game with a bunch of high school kids. There were a lot of initiations and things like that.&uot;

Porter started in left field after the first game of the season and finished with a .325 batting average.

South Natchez struggled in football and baseball Porter’s sophomore year.

&uot;We went 2-7-1 in football, but at that time we had about 40 kids out. But we had a good group of sophomores who played a lot.&uot;

South Natchez’s football team went 9-1 in Porter’s junior year and 10 in 1972 before losing to Gulfport in the Shrimp Bowl for the Big Eight championship.

Porter passed for 19 touchdowns and rushed for 10 more. He rushed for 800 yards and passed for close to 1,500, breaking Perry Lee Dunn’s high school records.

Porter was magical in running the Box.

&uot;It was the only thing I had ever done,&uot; Porter said of triggering the single wing offense. &uot;And Coach (Ed) Reed was a stickler for doing the little things right.&uot;

Reed also made sure no one thought they were doing everything right, especially if you were a sophomore.

&uot;One game against Gulfport I rushed for over 100 yards,&uot; Porter said. &uot;We watched films on Sunday and I walked in with my chest all poked out. Coach Reed said, ‘You know, that was the worst execution by a tailback I’ve seen. I just sank down in my chair. He made us work and we played harder.&uot;

Porter said one game that stood out was his junior year when the Colonels defeated Brookhaven 54-28 and were still throwing the ball at the end of the game.

&uot;We found out later they wouldn’t let the coaches wives in free,&uot; Porter said.

Then there was the night against Yazoo City.

&uot;They had a defensive tackle named Ben Williams who about broke me in half,&uot; he said. &uot;I had one of them worst games ever that night. I tried to hide on the bench, but Coach Reed found me.&uot;

Porter said one of his most memorable games was when the Colonels faced top-rated Callaway his junior season.

&uot;We were both 4-0 and they were averaging 42 points a game. We upset them 12-9. After going 2-7-1 the year before, this kind of put our program over the hump. We lost one game to Wingfield when I fumbled and Jackie Slater ran it back all the way for a touchdown.&uot;

Porter batted .216 his sophomore year.

&uot;We had a pitcher named Guy Hollingsworth who got tonsilitis the week of the district championship against McComb so I had to pitch,&uot; Porter said. &uot;We were up 6-3 when I came out and ended up losing 7-6. &uot;

South Natchez made the playoffs in Porter’s junior year, but lost to Meridian in the first round.

&uot;We were pretty hungry going into the next year,&uot; Porter said. &uot;Meridian didn’t make the playoffs so we caught Forest Hill in the first round. They had the Cliburn twins. I pitched against them in the first game and beat them 2-0 in eight innings. They beat us 1-0 in thsecond game, but we won the third game 3-0.&uot;

Porter was the winning pitcher in the first and third games.

South Natchez beat Pascagoula 4-3 in the first game of their series, but Porter’s shutout streak came to an end.

&uot;I wasn’t worried about that, I just wanted to win state,&uot; Porter said.

&uot;We came home and during exams some kids missed practice,&uot; Porter said. &uot;We still won 10-2 ith four starters on the bench.&uot;

South Natchez then defeated Hattiesburg for the South State title and breezed past for the state championship.

&uot;Forest Hill and Pascagoula were the two touhgest teams,&uot; Porter said. &uot;At that time the north wasn’t very strong.&uot;

Porter, who went 11-1 his senior year, still holds the high school record for most consecutive innings without giving up a run at 80 and most consecutive shutout games at 11.

&uot;I remember we were playing Brookhaven during that streak and the first guy tripled in our ballpark,&uot; Porter said. &uot;A.C. (Williams) talked to me and told me, ‘You’re not throwing the ball and just chewed on me. I kept the guy from scoring. Keeping the streak going had a lot to do with the good players I had around me. We had a close call against Forest Hill when they had a man on second and the ball was hit to the outfield. I went to back up third and missed the ball and was running it down the fence. I threw the ball home and we just got the runner.&uot;

Porter also playd basketball, averaging five points a game.

&uot;I was more of a defensive player,&uot; he said. &uot;We were mediocre our junior and senior years, but we won the Big Eight championship my sophomore year, going 25-3.&uot;

Porter was a member of the Delta State baseball team that finished third in the Division II College World Series in 1977. An arm injury kept him from putting up the same kind of stats he put up in high school.

Porter grew up around the game as a son of former Natchez High coach Claude Porter.

&uot;I hung around the gym,&uot; he said. &uot;I&160;never thought about not playing sports. They didn’t overlap as bad as they do now. I remember in my junior year when we won the Shrimp Bowl on Friday night we came back the next night and they were playing a basketball game. All of the fans there gave us a standing ovation. That was real nice.&uot;

Porter was named head coach at South Natchez in 1982. He was named head coach at Columbia in 1988 and has been there 12 years, taking the Panthers to the state championship game once and South State finals twice.

&uot;I still enjoy coaching,&uot; said Porter, who employed the Notre Dame Box at South Natchez and still runs that offense today at Columbia. &uot;Several years ago I was disgruntled at Columbia, but all of a sudden -&160;I don’t know if it was the kids or me – I snapped out of it. We went 4-6, but we had a good group of kids. They played hard and we started getting ready for a good season the next year.&uot;

Porter is also athletic director at Columbia.

&uot;I’m usually nervous up to the game and then I relax once it starts,&uot; he said. &uot;Being athletic director I spend half my time worrying about other things like getting the stadium ready and people there. I look forward to the games because I can stop and relax. But I have a great principal and he takes a lot of my burdens.&uot;

Porter, who is married to the former Shirley Nettles of Natchez, coached his sons Bryan and Chad, who are now both at Jones Community College.

&uot;Lucas is a sophomore this year and played a little bit,&uot; Porter said. &uot;It’s been a lot of fun coaching my kids.&uot;