Natchez High honors Irving

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 1, 2006

Mary Jean Irving meant quite a bit to a great deal of people throughout the Miss-Lou during her 63 years on Earth, and now the Natchez-Adams School District has chosen to recognize that fact.

During the recent school board meeting, the board agreed to rename the gymnasium at Natchez High School after Irving, who coached at North Natchez and Natchez High, winning three titles. She also won a title at Newellton High School.

Natchez alderman Ricky Gray said he was happy with the board’s decision.

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“I’ve known Mrs. Irving ever since she came to (North) Natchez High School in 1981,” he said. “Me and her son competed against each other in basketball. She was like a mother figure to the girls, but to the boys, too. She was a coach, a teacher and also a mother figure not only to the players but to the students at the school.”

The dedication ceremony is currently set for Nov. 16 during the Lady Bulldogs’ first home game.

Irving’s daughter, Brenza Irving-Jones, who now lives in Monroe, La., was ecstatic to see her mother recognized nearly three years after her death.

“I really can’t describe the excitement I felt when the school board voted to name the gym after my mother,” she said. “I always thought my mother was an extraordinary person, but I kind of felt my admiration was biased. She was the light of my life, and she was my best friend.”

Tangela Jones-Hawthorne, who played basketball and ran track under Irving from 1985-89, said Irving was an inspiration to her players.

“When we were playing for Mrs. Irving, she led by example,” Jones-Hawthorne said. “She had this disposition about herself — when she coached, you wanted to make her happy. You didn’t want to let her down because you knew she wouldn’t let you down.”

While basketball was her profession, basketball players were not the only ones Irving took under her wing, according to her daughter.

“I feel like she gave such special attention to so many people,” she said. “Her family, her players, her students, her friends and her sorority sisters. I feel like she gave special attention to everyone, but especially me. I got to see things the way she did. We were best friends. We would share information that no one else would no about.

“I also had the unique position of being able to see how she dealt with people. She didn’t change (in public or private). I saw her love for those students.”

Jones-Hawthorne said many of the life-lessons she learned from Irving are with her to this day.

“I have a good story,” she said. “When I was in high school, The Democrat had a thing where they did players of the week. I got chosen, and she came up to tell me that I had been chosen as player of the week. At that time, you did a little TV interview. I told her I was going to go home and learn some new, big words to impress people. She said to me ‘Never try to be somebody you’re not. Always be yourself.’ That’s something that has kept with me. I miss her dearly. She just instilled those values and morals in you. It’s good that there will be something tangible to remember her by. It’s a good gesture by the community.”

Gray said he felt lucky just to have known Irving.

“Coach Irving’s work speaks for itself,” he said. “She meant a lot to this community, and the people of this community should feel lucky to have coach Mary Irving come through Natchez.”