Natchez is a hotbed for athletics

Published 12:01 am Sunday, May 29, 2011

When the community gathered earlier this spring to celebrate local athlete Stevan Ridley and his role in the then-upcoming NFL draft, Natchez mayor Jake Middleton made it part of his agenda.

His presence should tell you something about how important sports are to this community.

“Natchez is a hotbed for athletics,” Middleton said that day.

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It isn’t just that Natchez has been blessed with many gifted athletes, but the importance that people in the community place upon athletics is one of many things that makes this town unique.

Not to mention, it’s much more fun to cover sports in a community that actually cares about sports.

I started as a fledgling sports reporter straight out of college in August 2009. Almost immediately, I was thrust into the “Friday Night Lights” high school football atmosphere here. And I was immediately impressed with what I saw.

The Trinity Episcopal 2009 team won the MAIS Class A state championship, and the Natchez High School 2009 football team that made it to the second round of the MHSAA Class 6A playoffs.

Those two teams might stand out most to football fans, but I was also impressed with the two local teams that didn’t have quite as much success that year.

Adams County Christian School posted a 6-5 record in 2009 after winning just one game the previous two seasons. They didn’t make the playoffs, but the work head coach Paul Hayles was doing to turn the program around was beginning to pay off.

Cathedral School got off to a poor start that year, but after heartbreaking loss to rival St. Alyosius, something crazy happened. Instead of quitting, the Green Wave pulled together and finished the season strong, making the playoffs.

Fast-forward to the 2010 football season. Trinity won another state title, and all four local teams made the postseason.

But there’s more to the Miss-Lou than just football. Vidalia High School won a state championship in basketball during the 2009-2010 season. The Trinity girls basketball team made the state championship game two years in a row, and the Trinity boys made it this past season.

Who can forget the Cathedral golf team winning the state title last season, and head coach Kurt Russ tearing up after watching his team do the unthinkable and beat St. Al for the top honors? (Sorry, coach.)

Just this past baseball season, Trinity and Centreville Academy both secured their first state championships in baseball.

Cathedral, Natchez High and Trinity have all made the baseball playoffs for two straight seasons. The Natchez Dixie Youth 12-year-old All-Stars got to the Dixie Youth World Series last summer.

Cathedral’s soccer and softball programs are strong, as is ACCS’ girls basketball program. And that’s not even getting into the many local golf events in the area, and the strong tennis presence here, thanks largely in part to Duncan Park Tennis Director Henry Harris.

Middleton was right, Natchez is indeed a hotbed for sports. Just ask Ridley, the most recent local athlete to make it to the professional level at a sport.

I highly doubt he’ll be the last.