Byrne set new standards at Natchez High

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 12, 2000

You’ve seen it mentioned before, but Tony Byrne was for a fact grace personified, on the hardwood as well as the gridiron. That’s why he was All Big Eight in both sports while royally entertaining crowds playing both at Natchez High School.

Tony could absolutely swivel-hip opponents on a basketball court same as on a football field. Believe me, many of his breaks down a basketball court were in and out of opponents like you had to see to believe. And two points, usually, followed by a converted free throw.

When the NHS star set the new Big Eight Conference standard for single-season touchdowns in 1953 in the Big Eight, he rushed for 781 yards on touchdown runs alone.That’s 24.4 yards per TD. Unheard of; he had 16 scoring runs of 20 yards or more, 11 of 30 yards or more compiling the record 32 TDs.

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Tony averaged 180 yards per game. On the season he had 1802 in 10 games. Broken down, that was 1170 yards rushing on 130 runs for a 9-yard average. The ’53 season was special, I’m telling you. Clyde Adams also completed 11 of 22 passes thrown Tony’s way for 240 yards. And check this: Tony gained 392 yards on kickoff, punt and intercepted-pass returns. He gained 1802 total offense.

When I read in The Natchez Democrat that Tony had been voted Miss-Lou Athlete of the Century, &uot;all&uot; of this came to me. No, actually, I have Tony’s stats, both in football and basketball, and I simply thought now was a good time to rehash them — not to in any way get into the thing about who else might be just as deserving.

To be sure, all-around athletes like Fred Foster, Joey Porter, Louie Brown, Hugh Green, Perry Lee Dunn, Paige Cothren and several others deserved, and I’m sure, received votes. Natural athletic ability is something all of them possessed. ALL of them!

Which reminds that Tony Byrne’s basketball exploits are also legendary.&160;Anytime a player sets a new Big Eight Conference single-game scoring standard of 42 points and sets a season scoring record of 716 points in a championship basketball season, that’s something. Joey Martin reminded you of all of this the other day upon announcing that Tony had been voted Miss-Lou’s athlete of the century.

Again, Tony was just short of sensational in football and basketball, and this is not to literally say that he was short at all.

You know about his hardwood capabilities, try this gridiron reminder:

Byrne scored four (count ’em, four!) touchdowns in six different games in 1953, the season he set the new Big Eight Conference touchdowns scored standard that still stands so far as I know as a Mississippi prep mark.

That would be three against McComb, Clarksdale and Gulfport (in succession), Laurel, then Brookhaven and Vicksburg (in succession again). And, again, he was just as fabulous in basketball, playing in the state’s top conference.

A writer simply doesn’t tire of talking about remarkable athletes like Tony Byrne, Fred Foster, Paige Cothren, Hugh Green, etc. As you can imagine.

n JOE&160;FORTUNATO is a prince of a man, and understandably one of Natchez’s heroes. That’s why it was nice to wake up to the news recently that Joe had received Mississippi’s award from a national sporting goods concern. The Sporting Goods Manufacturing Associatoin (SGMAO) to be specific.

How wonderful; Joe does it with humility, but regularly lends his hand in raising scholarship money for Miss-Lou scholar-athletes by putting in long hours staging (with the assistance of many others) the annual Joe Fortunato Celebrity Golf Classic here in the Miss-Lou. Joe seeks no attention, that’s why he’s a model citizen.