Work was Wade Craig’s occupation, recreation

Published 5:26 pm Tuesday, August 3, 2021

NATCHEZ — Long time Sports Center owner Wade Craig died at the age of 77 Monday.

He leaves behind his mom, Josie Craig, and sons Bobby and Wyatt Craig.

Fred Rogers, who was his friend and accountant, said they grew up and attended high school together. Craig was a year ahead of him and graduated in 1962 from Natchez High School.

“It was the first class to graduate in the new school,” Rogers said. “We did not become real good friends until I graduated from MSU and came back here. He graduated from Bowling Green (State University) and went to work for his father at Sports Center.”

Craig’s father began the business in 1946, and Craig took ownership in the late 1960s.

Lake St. John is where he grew up. His family owned a lake house, and it was a place where he spent a lot of time, Rogers said. If he was not hunting or working, he was on Lake St. John, Rogers said.

If Rogers had to describe who Craig was to someone, he would say he was a southern gentleman and a businessman. He loved two things, sports and making money, he said.

“He didn’t do anything but work,” Rogers said. “It was his occupation and recreation.”

In December 2020, Craig retired and sold the business to his son, Wyatt Craig, said Crystal Rodriguez, a Sports Center employee.

Rodriguez and Sports Center employees Chip Sturdivant and Shonda Graves remember him as a kind and generous man.

“I have worked for him since 2010, and he was one of the kindest people you would ever meet,” Rodriguez said. “He would give his shirt off his back. He was a great boss to work for.”

One of the ways he showed kindness to people was when he helped a man who washed cars, Graves said.
“He was generous all of the time to everyone,” Graves said. “He told the gentleman across the street that washed cars that he could set up in the parking lot of Sports Center for free instead of paying rent where he was at.”

Chip Sturdivant said he shared common interests with Craig about history and sports. He said they would converse all the time about those topics. Craig was a boss who checked in on him when he needed it, he said.

Sturdivant said Craig gave him a job and taught him the importance of customer service. He was a shrewd businessman who navigated the company through an ever-changing world, he said.
“I learned to treat customers with good service, and after you help them, hopefully, you become their friend,” Sturdivant said. “You do that by not only waiting on them, but you become their friend by getting to know them. When the customers came into the store, they became like family. People are very loyal to this store because of Mr. Craig and Mr. (Clarence) Bowlin. When they shopped here, they were like family.”

Rex Team Sports Manager Ray Simpson said Craig, who owned that business as well, was the only boss he ever had in 45 years of work. Business was his passion and he was not scared to expand the business across the state, he said.

Craig’s leadership style was to quietly lead from his office, Simpson said. Leading on the sales floor was not his strength, he said. Coaching people was another quality of his. When Sports Center and Rex Team Sports moved from a location on Union Street to Pine Street, he taught his employees a song to make the moving process quicker.

“He took the lyrics from the theme song for Rawhide ‘rolling, rolling, rolling,’ to get us to move out of Union Street,” Simpson said. “It became ‘moving, moving, moving.’ I thought that was the funniest thing ever. We cleared out that store on Union so quickly. It worked.”

He said when Sports Center moved to its current retail location at the old Kroger on Seargent Prentiss Drive, it took nearly a year to renovate the store because Craig was very particular with the construction.

Sports were a passion of Craig’s, Simpson said. His sons Bobby and Wyatt went to Trinity Episcopal Day School where David King, currently the headmaster at Adams County Christian School, coached them.

“He was a big supporter of all the area schools,” King said. “He loved watching his boys play basketball. He was always supportive and had a big heart. He truly loved basketball.”

Another passion of his was Corvettes, Simpson said. There was 11 years of age difference between them, so they did not have similar social circles. Corvettes were an interest they shared.

“I remember several times we would ride to Vicksburg to car shows and hang out,” Simpson said. “We would talk, laugh and have a good time.”