Natchez High gym dedicated to legendary coach Irving

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 29, 2006

NATCHEZ &8212; In an event that was part memorial, part dedication and part worship service, Natchez High School honored one of its brightest dignitaries when it dedicated its gym to late girls basketball coach Mary Jean Irving.

Around 200 friends, family, colleagues, former players, local dignitaries and others attended the dedication ceremony Saturday afternoon at the gym.

Irving, who coached Newellton, North Natchez and Natchez High to state titles during her 33-year career on the court before she passed away Feb. 5, 2004 after losing her battle with cancer, was honored by several of her former players giving stories and anecdotes of their time with her.

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&8220;She was an angel put on this earth to touch the lives of not one, not two, but the entire community,&8221; said Alexine Profice, who played for Irving at Natchez High. &8220;She always kept her eyes on the prize &8212; and that was to be prosperous by any means. That could mean a pinch, suicides or missing games. She led by example.&8221;

&8220;She was a coach, a mentor and a leader,&8221; said Sonya Brown, another former Natchez High player. &8220;The greatest gift you can leave behind is a life dedicated to God, and she was.&8221;

Many former students also gave testimonials.

&8220;She was the kind of person who would tell you what she thought whether you wanted to hear it or not,&8221; said Al J. Thompson. &8220;She came up to me one day and put her arm around me and gave me that pinch she used to give you, and said, &8216;Why didn&8217;t I see you at FCA this morning, and you didn&8217;t play worth a dime last night.&8217;&8221;

Natchez Alderman Ricky Gray, former track coach Doc Woods and many others spoke of their experiences with Irving, with funny stories, touching remembrances and everything in between. Current Natchez High girls coach Sue Johnson and Irving&8217;s granddaughter, Alexis, wrote poems.

Perhaps, however, Irving&8217;s influence was best felt when her daughter, Judge Brenza Irving-Jones, asked her family, former players, former colleagues former sorority sisters to stand, and by that point virtually everyone in the gym was standing.

&8220;Her name is now permanently affixed to a building which still carries her spirit &8230; I still miss my mom, but she is forever engraved in me,&8221; Irving-Jones said.

&8220;By the glory and grace of God, all of you helped this happen, and I want to say thank you.&8221;

The Natchez Gym will now forever be known as Mary Jean Irving Memorial Gym. It will host its first game this Thursday during the Natchez High Classic tournament.