Longtime player, coach Anders battling illness

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 5, 2004

NATCHEZ &045; There have been many sports legends in the Miss-Lou area over the last 50-plus years, whether they were playing, coaching or both.

Another of those sports legends that is well-known in the Miss-Lou is J.M. &uot;Junie&uot; Anders II. But many people just call him by his nickname, Junie. He was an accomplished athlete and coach in Natchez and in Mobile, Ala., and he recently was diagnosed with emphysema.

Anders was quite a good athlete when he attended St. Joseph Catholic High School in the late 1940s and early 1950s, which was what Cathedral School was known as at that time. The two sports he excelled at were basketball and tennis.

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His ball-handling skills and his never-give-up attitude helped Junie make the Green Wave’s varsity team during his eighth-grade year during the 1949-1950 season. That season the Green Wave won the District 4, Region 7 sub-regional championship, which was played at the old City Auditorium.

St. Joseph Catholic first defeated a good Chamberlain-Hunt team 53-27, then defeated the Washington Pirates 33-27 to advance to the finals, where the Green Wave defeated Natchez High 41-22.

&uot;Junie loved sports and he loved basketball. He wanted to play so bad,&uot; said Gene McGehee, who was Anders’ idol during that time. &uot;He wasn’t over 5-6 and was a little-framed fellow. He was skinny. He was a good ball-handler.&uot;

&uot;He was an only child,&uot;

teammate Frank Pitchford said. &uot;We played together a lot. We used to walk to school together. He was small. We used to play basketball during the summer in the back of his house on State Street. One of our big games back then was marbles. He was a good athlete at all those things.&uot;

Another of his close friends is Gary Shaifer, who played under Junie on the Cathedral junior high basketball team during the late 1950s and early 1960s and currently works with one of Junie’s sons, Jewel Malcolm Anders III (better known as Malcolm) at American General Life & General Insurance in Natchez.

Shaifer said Junie’s ball-handling skills reminded him of an NBA legend, Boston Celtics great Bob Cousy, who was Shaiefer’s favorite professional basketball player growing up, Shaifer said Junie gave him his very first opportunity to play basketball when he was in junior high.

Byrne said Junie was too small to play football, but &uot;he loved basketball.&uot;

&uot;Junie was very competitive,&uot; former Natchez High standout Tony Byrne said. &uot;He was one of those that hung in there just for the love of the games, all of them. He was a fair tennis player at one time.

&uot;Junie admired many of the older players. Junie patterned himself after Gene McGehee, who played at Natchez High, who wasn’t as big as a minute. He was a real tough basketball player. We called Junie ‘Little Bug.’ Junie admired him so much that he patterned his game after Gene. Gene was on some of the great teams at Natchez High in the late 1940s.&uot;

&uot;Everything I wore, he tried to dress like me. He looked up to me,&uot; McGehee said. &uot;Everytime we had a pickup game at the playground or wherever, he wanted to guard me. He was a little bitty guy, but so was I. We didn’t hang together too much. We didn’t socialize, so to speak. Junie was a good shooter from a spot.&uot;

When Junie transferred to Natchez High, he played under legendary head coach A.I. Rexinger.

Another person who knew Junie Anders back in that time was Andrew Eidt, who said Junie was a &uot;fair player&uot; and that he would tell someone how he played in certain games.

&uot;If he could’ve been 6-4 and 235 pounds, he would’ve been playing pro ball because he loved it,&uot; Eidt said. &uot;He played golf. He lived about two blocks from Duncan Park.&uot;

Although he did not personally know Junie Anders until the early 1960s, Fred Foster had heard about Junie a decade earlier.

&uot;I knew he transferred to Natchez High to play basketball,&uot; Foster said. &uot;Gene McGehee was his idol. Junie was small, like Gene. He was a good player. I was playing college basketball upstate at Delta State. I moved to Vidalia in 1962 and he was living in Vidalia at the time. Our backyards met. I played golf with him. He was a good golfer.&uot;

In fact, Foster said Junie was a member of the Natchez International Paper Golf Course.

After graduating from Natchez High, Junie went on to Mississippi Southern College in Hattiesburg, where he was a cheerleader before graduating in 1956. His name is on the USM Golden Eagle Walk.

Not long after that he returned to Natchez for the first time and coached Cathedral’s junior high basketball team from 1957 to 1963.

During a four-year stretch from 1958 to 1961 Junie coached the Greenies to consecutive winning seasons while they played in the Miss-Lou League against the likes of Braden, Montebello, Morgantown, Ferriday and Vidalia. Their highest finish in league play was four runner-up finishes to Braden. His overall record was a respectable 45-15.

Then Junie and his family moved to Mobile, Ala., a few years later and in 1968 became basketball coach at St. Dominic’s Parochial School, where he coached his two sons, Malcolm Anders and John R. Anders.

During the early 1970s, St. Dominic’s dominated the City Youth Organization league, winning four straight parochial championships &045; the Midget Championship in 1971 and 1972, the Junior Championship in 1973 and the Senior Championship in 1974 to cap off a 14-1 season.

It was during the 1974 season that St. Mary’s defeated St. Dominic’s to give St. Dominic’s one of just two losses during a three-year stretch in which it went an astounding 55-2 &045; a school record that has never been equaled since then.

Recently retired Democrat columnist Glenvall Estes wrote a column about Junie Anders 30 years ago. In it, Estes noted that Malcolm was a backup guard on that 1974 team. He also said that St. Dominic’s four-year record was 69-4.

And while John Anders was the mascot, he did get to play some basketball under Junie at St. Dominic’s as well.

&uot;He coached my older brother and me,&uot; John said. &uot;When I played, he told me, ‘Take the ball to the hoop. Take it to the middle.’ He’s a good father. He taught me everything I know about sports and golf. Most importantly golf, but basketball as well. He’s been as most fathers should be.&uot;

One of Malcolm’s and John’s teammates that played under Junie was Darren Cowart.

&uot;He was my basketball coach from fifth through eighth grade at St. Dominic’s,&uot; Cowart said. &uot;The last three years we were 55-2. He kept it simple. We were all fundamentally sound. He didn’t ask us to do the stuff we couldn’t do.&uot;

During the time Junie and his family lived in Mobile, he also started working in the insurance business.

Junie and his family left Mobile and moved back to Natchez. And again Junie returned to coaching, as for the second time in his career he was coaching Cathedral’s junior high basketball team in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

&uot;I knew he was a good athlete,&uot; Cathedral athletic director Roy Garcia said. &uot;He loved to work with kids. He had a knack for coaching. I haven’t seen him in a long time. He’s a good friend. He helped a lot of kids. He was a spirited guy. Very vivacious and loved life.&uot;

After moving back to Natchez in the mid-1970s, Junie Anders became an avid golfer &045; and a good one, too.

&uot;Some of the most fun with Dad over the years was playing in tournaments at Belwood Country Club, winning our flights many times and finishing second and third in others,&uot; John R Anders said. &uot;I’m raising two boys, Jack and Will, who enjoy playing the game.&uot;

Junie not only played golf at Belwood, which closed its doors in July 1999 to make way for the opening of Beau Pr that same month, but also at Duncan Park, where inside the Pro Shop is a plaque of his father, who was a good golfer himself.

Malcolm noted that Junie had two hole-in-ones during his golfing days, including one that Malcolm was a witness to on a brutally cold February morning at Lake Bruin Country Club in St. Joseph, La. in 1994 and that he taught Malcolm and John how to play the game when they were between 7 and 10 years old.

He also coached one of Adams County Christian School’s AYA teams, the Packers, in 1997, leading them to a 5-5 record and a fourth-place finish in the six-team league that included the ACCS Bulls, the ACCS Bulldogs, the Trinity Red Devils, the Trinity Steelers and the Ferriday Wolverines.

Unfortunately, one of the things that Junie Anders patterned after Gene McGehee was smoking, which led to Junie, now 70 years old, being diagnosed with emphysema and eventually being put on oxygen 24 hours a day. It also forced him to stop playing golf.

&uot;Junie kept up with the guys that we grew up with. I call Junie every four to six weeks to check on him,&uot; Byrne said. &uot;One thing that he imitated that I wish he wouldn’t was that Gene smoked and so did Junie.&uot;

If he would’ve quit smoking, he wouldn’t have had emphysema,&uot; McGehee said. &uot;I quit cold turkey in 1986.&uot;

Junie Anders’ career coaching record in 13 seasons was quite impressive &045; 105 wins and just 22 losses.

In addition to sons Malcolm and John, Junie and wife Mary Catherine raised two daughters, Tara Anders Baxley and Gayle Anders, and have eight grandchildren, all of whom have been very active in sports.

Whether it be on the hardwood playing basketball or on the bench coaching it, Junie Anders will always be a legend both here in the Miss-Lou and in Mobile.