Getting back to Gaston

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 19, 2006

Here is a short update on the retirement of Bobby Gaston as the SEC supervisor of football officials.

Last week after I had promised my source secrecy about Gaston&8217;s successor, I found the name of that person, Rogers Redding, was already out and widely known. It doesn&8217;t really matter.

This column was never meant to be a news source.

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Longtime referee Redding came over to the SEC after the old Southwest Conference disbanded. At that time, the SEC added Arkansas from the Southwest Conference and South Carolina, an independent but formerly from the Atlantic Coast Conference. A number of football (and other sports officials, I suppose) from both the Southwest and Carolina area came into the SEC.

A couple of weeks ago I came across a clipping of a photo published in the Aug. 8, 1953, edition of the Natchez Times. That photo, which is probably in the archives of several Natchez families, inspired me to go ahead with my &8220;whatever happened to?&8221; series.

The picture showed a group of Natchez adults and some players at a &8220;Little-Bigger League&8221; baseball tournament in Trenton, N.J. I was just beginning my two-year tour in Newfoundland with the Air Force so have no actual memories of that event.

The adults shown were Robert Burns, then Adams County chancery clerk; Al Graning Sr., then in his two-year term as an alderman (I often reminded him that I served six four-year terms as an alderman); J. W. &8220;Jake&8221; Brown, an Adams County supervisor; Pat McDonough of Vidalia, team manager Frank Hall, manager Billy Priester, supervisor Arlie Warren, supervisor F. L. &8220;June&8221; Callon, and Frank McCormick, Commissioner of Natchez Little-Bigger Baseball.

The players were Chick Graning, Pat McDonough (Jr. or III, I don&8217;t remember) and Holty Warren. I don&8217;t know about Hall or McCormick, but Chick Graning is the only other person in the picture surviving.

I don&8217;t want Hall or McCormick to e-mail me &8220;The reports of my demise are greatly exaggerated.&8221; All have left a lasting legacy to Natchez.

The late Billy Priester, a member of the Mississippi College Athletic Hall of Fame, had two sons who were both outstanding athletes and citizens. His daughter, Jan Priester Byrne, was kind enough to provide me with some background on both boys.

Bill Priester lettered two years in football at Mississippi State after playing all-star Little League and Babe Ruth League baseball, being managed by his father. He lettered in football, basketball, baseball and track at Natchez High School.

After graduating from State and spending two years in the Army, Bill worked for South Central Bell before entering dental school at the University of Tennessee. Graduate work at the University of Indiana prepared Dr. Priester for a career as a prosthodontist, and he taught for seven years at the UT School of Dentistry before devoting full time to his growing practice.

Bill&8217;s wife, Jean, is the daughter of the late Dr. Swink and Connie Hicks, long-time Natchez residents.

Billy Priester&8217;s second son, Bob, was also an outstanding athlete. Bob played youth baseball, also at the all-star level, before starring in football, basketball and track at the then-new Natchez-Adams High School.

He went to Ole Miss on a football scholarship and, after a great freshman season, was preparing to move up to the varsity as a sophomore when he tragically passed away during a pre-season workout.

There will be more to come on the Priesters and many more former Natchez athletes who you might wonder &8220;Whatever Happened To?&8221;

And that&8217;s official.

Al Graning is a former SEC official and former Natchez resident. Reach him at