NHS girls, others will ‘get better’

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 17, 2004

It was tough enough for Jefferson County head girls’ coach Flora McKnight to bring her young team into Class 5A Natchez High Friday night.

She’s had a rebuilding project this year, but coming into the gym wasn’t the toughest task. It was the first game since veteran Lady Bulldogs head coach Mary Irving passed away, and McKnight counted herself as both friend and student to Irving.

McKnight sat on the JC bench with a black ribbon pinned to her shirt, just as coaches and supporters at Natchez did for the contest played a day after Irving succumbed to a lengthy illness.

Email newsletter signup

As tough as it was to concentrate on the game, McKnight had to hand it to the Lady Bulldogs in their 57-42 win.

&uot;They played with courage,&uot; McKnight said. &uot;Believe me, they played with courage. That’s important. It’s like a muscle. As they played that game, the courage came and came and came and that muscle got stronger.&uot;

Although Irving had been absent since December while being hospitalized in New Orleans, the reality of her death really set in Friday night.

Assistant coaches Steve McClatchy, Yvonne Chatman and Talya Huntley gathered after the game in Irving’s old office, and pictures of Irving’s family and an aged clipping from her enshrinement in the Mississippi Coaches Hall of Fame are still on the wall.

Irving’s ledger is definitely worth Hall representation with more than 600 wins and three state championships, but it was often just the little things that players liked about her.

&uot;When Coach Irving took a leave of absence, she got us together and just told us to continue to work hard with the girls,&uot; said Chatman, in her first year at Natchez after spending 14 years at Ferriday. &uot;It was tough, her leaving. It really was. She’s not only my mentor, but she was also a friend. It has been especially hard.

&uot;Her faith and trust was always in the Lord. We’ll make it. We’ve dedicated the rest of the season to her, and we’ll do it for her.&uot;

While Irving may have had more talented teams than this year’s rebuilding squad, the younger players this season appreciated the fact that she never really quit on them. The Lady Bulldogs struggled early in the season.

&uot;She never gave up on them from Day 1,&uot; Chatman said. &uot;We just had to put it all together and find the right chemistry. It’s funny &045; she always knew what we had done before we called her. I guess others would contact her. She would always say how proud she was of the girls and tell them how proud she was. She would always say keep up the good work and work hard.&uot;

School officials will hold a memorial service at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the school’s gym. Irving’s memory may be enough to spur the Lady Bulldogs to do something surprising next week at the division tournament, but they won’t be the only ones thinking about her.

&uot;We will all be better for this,&uot; McKnight said. &uot;We’ll get better.&uot;

Adam Daigle

is sports editor of The Natchez Democrat. Reach him at (601) 445-3632 or at