When the Saints come marching in: Trinity wraps up school history filled with titles, memories

Published 12:05 am Sunday, May 20, 2018

In 1989, coach Jack Benson and quarterback Lee Falkenheiner led Trinity Episcopal to its first-ever football state championship. There was no question it was the first.

Twenty-four years later in 2013, signal-caller Michael Whitley threw three touchdowns and no interceptions in a game that captured the sixth championship on the gridiron for the Saints.

But, no one knew it would be the last.

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For more than 40 years, Trinity athletics has left its own stamp on the state of Mississippi. Dozens of state titles later, the school will close its doors next week and the legacy of its sports department will live on as vivid memories in the minds of those who created them.

“I had some great memories out there, and I was fortunate to have the best seat in the house,” former Trinity football coach David King said. “There are so many games I can look back on. Truly, I had more memories than a coach deserves to have out there.”

King led the Saints to four state titles in his 17-year tenure at the school, coming in 2001, 2006 and back-to-back in 2009 and 2010.

King said, however, the best times were those where his team wasn’t so great.

“I love being the underdog,” he said. “In 2005, we played a tough (Class) AA schedule with 13 kids. We won six games, and we won games we had no business winning. That to me is the most special.”

In fact, small teams we not uncommon for Trinity over the years.

“It was always the same group of people. That group never, never changed through grade school all the way until we graduated,” said former Saints football player Stevan Ridley. “We had no choice. Whatever it was, we weren’t coming off the field.”

Since graduating in 2006, Ridley has won a national championship during his time at Louisiana State University, as well as a Super Bowl ring with the New England Patriots.

As he readies for his eighth season in the NFL — now a running back with the Pittsburgh Steelers — Ridley said nothing compares to Trinity.

“I spent my whole life watching my brother (Chad Ridley.) It was always on the back of my mind to win a title,” Ridley said. “To finally get one my senior year, it was a tremendous accomplishment.

“That state championship is the most special one to me. It was the guys I grew up with. Amidst all the success I’ve had in my life, I won a state championship with my best friends.”

Howard Jones, a junior on the Saints’ 1978 state championship and overall championship basketball team, also had a lot to look up to.

Four years beforehand, Trinity not only won its first basketball championship, but also was the first-ever Class A team to claim the overall title.

Clyde Adams coached both teams.

“Coach Adams, he just believed it could be done,” Jones said. “I’m not sure we could have done it without the 1974 team doing it first. Before then it kind of just seemed impossible.”

Through the triumph, Jones agreed Trinity was always like a family.

“Every time you played a game, you felt like you needed to represent the best in a Saints jersey,” he said. “When those doors close, it’s almost like a part of our lives is ending.”

There were plenty of times, too, Trinity wasn’t just like a family — it was. For 1980 graduate Melanie Hall, coaching her twin daughters Sandy and Brandy in basketball was a gift.

“There are so many awesome memories. Oh my gosh, the memories,” Hall said. “Everybody was so tightknit.”

Hall knew how it felt to win a championship, too, as she was a sophomore on the 1978 Lady Saints title team.

“Everyone wants to strive for excellence, but it was excellent,” she said. “It was everything. I’m so thankful and blessed to have the opportunities that we had.”

For Jake Winston, his Trinity memories kept on going after he graduated in 2012, marrying his high school sweetheart Allie in 2017.

After his time with the Saints and aiding the school to its only baseball championship in 2011, Winston is now pitching as a part of the Arizona Diamondbacks organization.

“It was small, but we liked it like that,” Winston said. “I’m still throwing a baseball for a living, and I have so much to be thankful for. Trinity really did more for me than I did for it.”

However it’s described, thoughts of Trinity’s championships share the same sentiment — pure joy.

“It’s amazing,” Whitley said in 2013 of his title win. “It’s something you dream about. I can’t even explain it — that’s the feeling.”

For Falkenheiner, the feeling was more easily put into words.

“I haven’t slept in a week,” he said in 1989. “This was a once-in-a-lifetime chance.”

A chance that will live on as just a memory.