Scholar athletes, community members recognized at NFF banquet

Published 10:06 pm Tuesday, February 21, 2023

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NATCHEZ — Freddie Sandel, president of the Miss-Lou Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame, spoke at the podium for their annual scholar-athlete banquet Tuesday night. It was the first time they have held the banquet since 2020 due to COVID-19. 

Fr. Aaron Williams blessed the meal and Rick Cleveland, a Mississippi sports writer the last 57 years, set the stage for Tuesday’s recognition of scholar-athletes and community servants Ray Simpson, Sue and Ken Beesley who invested time into youth athletics. 

Walt Brown additionally took time to re-present a plaque to Sandel before introducing Cleveland for the evening. Sandel was awarded the NFF Chapter Leadership Award this past November. 

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Scholar Awards

Six area junior high athletes received scholar-athlete awards. Brady Sullivan from Adams County Christian School, Cathedral’s Adam Walker Probst, Delta Charter’s Jason Hunter Meyers, Ferriday’s Robert Taylor, Natchez’s Kameron Morgan and Vidalia’s Caden Kossum. 

Scholar Awards were presented to six high school seniors. Ferriday’s Chavo Thomas, Natchez’s Landen Sewell and Vidalia’s Courtlyn Brooks received $1,000 each in scholarship funds. 

Adams County Christian School’s Samuel Merriett and Delta Charter’s Clay Roberson received $2,000 as they tied for second place in the metrics, Sandel said. Cathedral’s Jackson Lewis received the top scholar-athlete award of $3,000. He said the scholarship will be a help. 

“I didn’t know beforehand I would be getting this. It will help for sure. It will help pay for room and board. I plan to go to MSU and study engineering,” Lewis said. “I have always loved math and science. It is a good fit. It is the two subjects I have always excelled in. I might study mechanical or civil engineering, but I’m still undecided. Math and Science have always been the easiest subjects since I was little.” 

Jackson is the son of Matthew and Heather Lewis. He played offensive guard, defensive end and punter for Cathedral. In his senior year, he was selected to play as captain and has had an A+ average at Cathedral over the last 10 years. 

Over those 10 years, he has also won highest average awards in Chemistry I, Chemistry II, Trigonometry and pre-Calculus. He has been a member of the National Honor Society for three years, Key Club for one year and worked at the Hunters for the Hungry and Stewpot charities for seven years. He accumulated 140+ hours of community service while at Cathedral. His time as a Green Wave is getting closer to an end. 

“I’m going to miss the sports and the community,” Lewis said. “I enjoyed the whole football season. Hanging out with your friends. The best year for me was when we went 10-1. I learned from Cleveland that people from Mississippi can do anything.” 

Cleveland spoke about the football players Mississippi has produced who went on to the NFL and shared little personal stories on Walter Peyton, Brett Favre, Archie Manning and Jerry Rice. He eventually shifted his focus to the scholar-athletes in front of him.

“Congratulations to everyone. It is a great honor to speak tonight,” Cleveland said. “We might be good in football but aren’t so good scholastically. Mississippi is typically somewhere in the 40s out of 50 states. You are proof that you can do both. You can make good grades and that will lead you to a lot of future success.”

Special honors

Students were not the only recipients of awards Tuesday night. Ray Simpson with Rex Team Sports won the Contributors to Amateur Football Award. In 1976, Simpson started his career with Wade Craig at Sports Center as a freight man. 

Craig bought Rex Sporting Goods in the late 80s and Simpson learned the team business from A.I. Rexinger. One of the memorable lessons he learned from Rex is to always deliver the head coach his polo before anything else. Rex Sporting Goods has now grown to nine full-time road salesmen. 

He and his wife Kitty of 45 years are active members at First Baptist Church Natchez. A past president of the Dixie Boys Baseball League and Delta State Alumni Association, the original organizer of the River City Run Marathon, he considers himself lucky to have sold to Joey Porter, Dee Faircloth, Bishop Robert Cade, David King, Tom Williams, Ed Reed, Bobby Mark, and Bob Ulmer. It should be noted he went to college for accounting. 

“I am completely blown away and honored by this recognition from the NFF and more so humbled my name will be listed with these giants from Adams County and Concordia Parish,” Simpson wrote. “I grew up calling on a lot of these folks and still do call on some of them.” 

Ken and Sue Beesley received the Distinguished American Award. Ken coached football and baseball at Cathedral for 36 years, his son Craig Beesley followed in his footsteps and grandson Andrew Beesley continues the Beesley tradition of coaching and teaching. 

Sue worked in the Natchez-Adams County Public School system for 30 years. She was often found in D’evereux Stadium cheering on the Green Wave each Friday night. They now enjoy watching Andrew coach. 

“It just means a lot to me. I had a fun time with Cathedral. I’m proud of Cathedral,” Ken said. 

“The award was a surprise,” Sue said. “It means the world to us to see Andrew coaching. We love the school and it is wonderful to see our grandson coaching. It keeps us going.”