Throwback Thursday: Scooba
In my post (late) last night, I mentioned watching Last Chance U, the Netflix series about the football team at East Mississippi Community College in Scooba.
The town is on Mississippi’s eastern border. Kemper County, where Scooba is located, has a little under 10,000 residents, and more than 60 percent are African-American. There are only two incorporated villages in Kemper County: Scooba and De Kalb, the county seat.
Kemper County was the birthplace and childhood home of John Stennis, a legendary politician who represented Mississippi in the United States Senate for 42 years (1947-1988). NASA’s test facility not too far from Bay St. Louis on the Gulf Coast is named in Stennis’ honor. My seventh grade science class at Arabi Park Middle ventured there in February 1989.
Scooba is only 40 miles east of the site of one of America’s darkest days of hatred.
Philadelphia, the seat of Neshoba County, was where civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Mickey Schwerner were arrested the afternoon on June 21, 1964 on trumped-up charges of speeding and disturbing the peace. After five hours in the county jail, the three young men were released and began to driving down Mississippi Highway 19 to Meridian.
Sadly, while Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner were in jail, a dastardly plot was hatched by Neshoba County Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price and numerous members of the Ku Klux Klan. The plan was to follow the civil rights workers down Highway 19 and eventually stop them, then murder them and bury them in an earthen dam.
Eventually Price and his minions, led by trigger man Alton Wayne Roberts, carried out the executions. It wasn’t until August that the bodies of the three murdered men were found.
Price and Roberts were convicted of violating the civil rights of Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner by an all-white Mississippi jury in October 1967. Unfortunately, nobody was prosecuted by the state or the feds for murder.
Scooba (permanent population 700, give or take; many more people are there during the school year) is one of the many places I ventured during my 14 months as the publicity person for Delgado Community College’s athletic teams.
Delgado is the largest community college in Louisiana, a state which has a woefully low number of two-year colleges, but an oversaturation of four-year colleges. For instance, there are so many four-year colleges within 100 miles of downtown New Orleans that I’m not going to sit here right now and try to figure it out. If it were only LSU, Tulane and the University of New Orleans, it would be plenty. But add in Nicholls (Thibodaux), Southeastern Louisiana (Hammond), Southern (Baton Rouge), plus numerous other smaller colleges, and it gets to be too much.
I think there are too many four-year schools in Kansas, but Kansas Wesleyan, Bethany, Bethel and the others in the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference are private. SOuthern, Nicholls, Southeastern and UNO are all funded by the the state of Louisiana, as are several others. LSU complains about not getting enough funding, but if Louisiana had the guts to close some of the smaller universities or convert them to community colleges, it might help the flagship.
Delgado has only three athletic teams: men’s basketball, women’s basketball and baseball. The baseball program has been one of the best junior college programs in the United States since its founding in the mid-1970s under the leadership of Joe Scheuermann, who has been the Dolphins’ coach since 1991, and his father, Louis (Rags), who began the team in 1973 after Loyola University, another private four-year school located literally next door to Tulane, dropped its athletic program. Loyola restarted its program in 1989-90, but it was at a much lower level.
With an utter lack of two-year colleges in Louisiana–the only others with athletic teams are Bossier Parish near Shreveport, LSU-Eunice north and west of Lafayyette, and Baton Rouge Community College–Delgado must go into other states to find games.
Fortunately for the Dolphins, Mississippi has numerous two-year colleges, so they don’t have to travel long distances.
Delgado traditionally plays three Mississippi JUCOs every year: Gulf Coast, about 40 miles north of Gulfport; Pearl River, about halfway between New Orleans and Hattiesburg on Interstate 59; and Meridian, which does not play football nor does it compete in the same conference with the other Mississippi JUCOs due to its strong baseball team, one which has sent hundreds of players to Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Southern Miss.
Scheuermann will rotate the other Mississippi JUCOs onto his schedule, and in my second baseball season there, one of those was East Mississippi.
The team had to stay in Meridian, 40 miles south of Scooba. Fortunately, US Highway 45 is four-laned throughout most of the state, and it provided easy access from Meridian. The original schedule was to play a single game on a Friday night and a single game the next afternoon.
I drove separately from the team. I like my freedom. I rented an SUV at the Baton Rouge airport and drove straight to Meridian. I didn’t rent from New Orleans because it is much easier to do so in Baton Rouge, where I parked my car, walked from the garage to the rental counter, then out to the rental car on the ground level of the garage. In New Orleans, you have to take a shuttle from the terminal to the rental car area, which is at the far western edge of the airport property. Pain in the butt.
It’s an easy drive from Baton :Rouge to Meridian: US 61 to Natchez, US 84 to Interstate 55 at Brookhaven, I-55 to I-20 at Jackson, then to Meridian. All four-lane highway. Much easier than driving from Russell to Norton (sorry, Peggy), especially if deer are congregating on the side of US 283.
The team drove north on US 45 to Scooba and arrived just before 4:30, with first pitch scheduled for 6:00. However, there were fierce thunderstorms gathering in east central Mississippi, and the coaches agreed to postpone the Friday night game and play two seven-inning games the next day. There was no option to play Sunday, since Delgado was going to be traveling to Wesson to play at Copiah-Lincoln Community College Sunday.
With thunderstorms on the horizon, I figured I’d better haul butt back to Meridian. I was doing much faster than the 65 MPH speed limit (I estimate a couple of times I was close to 90) as I tried to beat the thunderstorm back to Meridian.
While I was driving like a bat out of hell, I was also on my phone, talking to Jimmy Ott to discuss the LSU-Arkansas baseball series that weekend on his radio show. I don’t recommend that.
It absolutely poured once we got back to Meridian. But I was safe.
The next day, I drove from Meridian to Philadelphia on Highway 19. Made me think long and hard about just how backwards and cruel Mississippi was until the 1970s. There is a large Indian casino near Philadelphia, and the city has certainly modernized greatly since 1964, but it will always carry the shame of what happened to Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner that Father’s Day.
I remember getting ridiculously sunburned in Scooba. I had to sit outside because there was no press box, and silly me exposed my nearly bald head to the sun on a cloudless day.
Less than two months after my trip to Scooba and side excursion to Philadelphia, Edgar Ray “Preacher” Kilian, one of the members of the lynch mob that killed Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner, was convicted of murder. Kilian was acquitted during the 1967 federal trial because some jurors stated they could not convict a preacher, even though Kilian’s claim to be a preacher was dubious at best.
Coincidentally, the same day of the evil act in Neshoba County, Jim Bunning pitched a perfect game for the Phillies against the Mets in Shea Stadium. The next year, when Sandy Koufax threw a perfecto vs. the Cubs in Los Angeles, New Orleans was battered by Hurricane Betsy at the same time. And Woodstock was being held at the same time Hurricane Camille lay waste to the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
The third season of Last Chance U came to Kansas. The 2017 Independence Community College football team was highlighted, and episodes should be available for streaming in the spring. If the Netflix producers thought driving from Scooba to Wesson was a grind, I hope they were ready for Independence to Garden City. Russell to Norton is tough enough, though I will never complain, because two of my favorite people on earth call Norton home.
I’ve got to get some sleep. I’m supposed to have my first session with Crista in almost a month tomorrow at 8. Supposed to. I’ll leave it at that.