For this week’s episode, we revisit Coach Sank Powe’s 1999 interview. MSM 496 focused on his successful 25 year career as the men's baseball coach for Cleveland High School in Cleveland, Mississippi. Today, we examine his childhood, growing up on a Delta plantation as the son of a poor tenant farmer.
Powe enjoyed listening to professional baseball on the radio and recalls learning how to swing a bat by hitting rocks and bottle caps with an old hoe handle. He began playing baseball with local adult teams as a teenager in Mound Bayou, working on the farm after school and dreaming of becoming a professional ballplayer.
Mound Bayou was a favorite destination for Negro League baseball teams in those years. Powe enjoyed watching those legendary players and even toured with the Birmingham Black Barons when they needed an extra man. He explains how the public’s perception of the Negro Leagues’ legacy has evolved over time.
Sank Powe never played major league baseball, but he coached high school ball in Cleveland and scouted for the Cincinnati Reds and the St. Louis Cardinals. He reflects on his career, the advantages being a professional baseball scout afforded him, and all the young people whose lives he touched.
Coach Powe passed away on January 20, 2013.
Richard Giannini began his professional career as a sports information director, first at the University of Florida and later at Duke University, where he produced a weekly sports TV program. That experience landed Giannini a job with the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) producing the ABC College Football Highlights show in 1976. In this episode, he recalls those primitive days of sports television production and the grueling schedule he maintained.
Broadcast television afforded college football limited nationwide exposure. Giannini discusses how ESPN changed longstanding gridiron traditions by increasing the amount of primetime coverage available. By offering live college football—first on Thursday nights and later Tuesdays and Wednesdays as well, smaller schools could reach new audiences never before possible. However, these new opportunities came at a cost.
With so many sports networks vying for content, college football teams have more opportunities to be seen on TV than ever. Giannini reflects on the hazards of overexposure versus broadcast revenue. He explains how the trend to schedule more weekday games forces families to watch games instead of attending them. This trend, combined with higher ticket prices and streaming internet access, can mean smaller crowds, even as the number of viewers continues to grow.
Richard Giannini served as the Southern Miss Athletic Director from April 1999 – Dec. 2011.
Growing up in Cataula, Georgia, Helen Grant was always involved in sports. In this episode, she remembers her parent’s unwavering support through high school, college, and beyond. Helen Grant began her college career at Berry College in North Georgia. It was there she met Coach Kay James, who encouraged her to play volleyball and softball, in addition to basketball. When James took a job at Southern Miss after Grant’s freshman year, Grant decided to come along the ride.
Before Kay James came to Southern Miss, women’s basketball had been largely ignored. Grant describes how Coach James built up the team and generated excitement. After graduation, Grant remained active in sports, first as coach and later as an administrator. She credits Coach James for giving her a chance and looks back with pride on her role in building up women’s sports at USM.
Helen Grant was inducted into the Southern Miss Sports Hall of Fame in 1993.
Sank Powe of Mound Bayou became the head baseball coach of Cleveland High School in 1971, one year after school desegregation. In this episode, he recalls the resistance he encountered both from white parents and the black community. As a coach of high school boys and girls for twenty-five years, Powe developed a coaching style that he describes as a mixture of enthusiasm, motivation and fear.
Looking back on his career, Powe points with pride to the impact he has had on his students and the importance of chemistry between a coach and his players. He also explains his philosophy of walking the walk in all aspects of life.
Thad “Pie” Vann was head football coach at Southern Miss from 1948 until 1968, racking up an impressive 19 winning seasons and two national championships. But in this episode, we learn that coaching was not his first choice.
Growing up in the small town of Magnolia, Vann wanted to play professional baseball more than anything. It was his high school football coach that encouraged him to go to college before trying out for a minor league team. During his four years at Ole’ Miss, Vann excelled at football and baseball, hoping to play in the big leagues after graduation. He credits Coach Pete Shields for helping him prepare for a different career path.
Vann was still considering major league baseball after graduating college in 1929, but jumped at the chance to coach football at Meridian High School because of a desire to help his younger sister to attend college. It was while he was at Meridian, USM Coach Reed Green asked him to come to Southern Miss as an assistant. Eventually, he became head coach and achieved national recognition over the next twenty years.
Pie Vann was inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in 1971 and National Football Foundation Hall of Fame in 1987.
Julius Lopez of Biloxi graduated high school in 1926 without any career plans beyond a goal of attending Tulane. In this episode, he explains his decision to attend Loyola University instead.
When legendary coach Clark Shaughnessy came to Loyola in 1927, Julius Lopez was the third string quarterback. He describes how he went from third to first in just one game and was thereafter “under Shaughnessy’s wing.”
As quarterback for Loyola, Lopez had many fellow Mississippians as teammates. He remembers the spirited games they played against Ole’ Miss in 1927 and ’28 and Loyola’s 1928 season opener against the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.
Eugene Chadwick was forever tied to Mississippi sports at the age of two when his father was hired as the Athletic Director for Mississippi A&M (now MSU) in 1909. In this episode, he remembers the days when the entire Athletic Department consisted of his father and one assistant and there was one small facility for all outdoor sporting events: Hardy Field.
After playing football and baseball for MSU, Chadwick’s first job was coaching Greenwood High School’s football team. He looks back fondly on their undefeated season in 1930 when they were only scored on once the entire year for a season tally of 405 to 6. He also distinguished himself coaching for Laurel in 1945 and is credited for bringing the Split-T formation to Mississippi.
Chadwick served as the Head Coach and Athletic Director at Delta State from 1947 to 1960. He rebuilt the Athletics Program after WWII and led the football team to its first undefeated season in 1954.
Chadwick was inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, as well as, the MSU and Delta State Halls of Fame.
Born the son of a poor Aberdeen tenant farmer in 1901, Guy Bush had little to look forward to beyond life behind a plow. The one thing he could do really well is pitch baseball. In this episode, he recalls pitching for local teams to earn extra money while a student at the Tupelo Military Institute and how that led to a job pitching for a Greenville minor league club in the old Cotton States League.
Bush was soon traded to the Chicago Cubs for $1,000 and a gallon of corn whiskey in 1923 starting a 17 year career in the majors that introduced the country boy to the big city. Now one of the highest paid players in baseball, he was able to pay back all who helped him along the way and give his family a financial stability they had never known before.
In this extended podcast, the “Mississippi Mudcat” discusses highlights from his time in the majors, like being the last man to pitch to Babe Ruth.
Ace Cleveland served as the sports information director for USM from 1955 to 1986. In this episode, he discusses some of Southern’s most famous sports figures including basketball coach Lee Patrick Floyd, football and baseball legend Bubba Phillips, NFL Hall of Fame punter Ray Guy, and assistant football coach, Clyde “Heifer” Stuart.
Carl Walters of Laurel landed his first newspaper job in the 1920s working as a printer’s assistant. In this episode, he recalls how his love of sports led him to become a sports writer. Later, Walters began working for the Meridian Star. He discusses how the Meridian paper broke new ground by being the first to segregate the sports news into its own section. Walters became the first sports editor for the Jackson Daily News in 1946.
Walters reflects on his career as a sports editor and columnist with pride and the innovations we take for granted today, such as the Fall Football Preview Guide. Walters was inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in 1993. You can learn more by visiting their website. http://msfame.com/hall-of-fame/inductees/carl-walters-sr/
Starkville native James “Cool Papa” Bell played Negro League Baseball from 1922 to 1950. In this episode, he looks back fondly on the grueling schedule of long days and nights on the road with few amenities for little pay.
Until 1947, blacks were not allowed to play major league baseball, but Bell discusses how they would play and often beat the major league teams during winter season baseball in Mexico and other South American countries.
Baseball broadcasting legend Walter “Red” Barber was born in Columbus, Mississippi, in 1908. In this episode, he recalls his humble beginnings and taking his family to see the beautiful homes there after becoming successful.
Barber began working at the campus radio station while in college as a way to earn extra money. He soon realized he wanted a career in sportscasting. Barber was just starting out when he met fellow Mississippian, Dizzy Dean. He shares his memories of the famous pitcher. As a play-by-play sportscaster, Barber was driven to be the best. He claims learning about each man on the team before the game allowed him to “talk with his eyes.”
In a 40 year career calling games for the Cincinnati Reds, Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Yankees, Barber was famous for his colorful vocabulary and distinctive catch-phrases like "Sittin' in the catbird seat," "Walkin' in the tall cotton,” and "Slicker than boiled okra.” In a podcast extra, he discusses the inspiration for a couple of the more famous ones.
After playing football for Southern Miss, P.W. Underwood returned to Hattiesburg as an assistant coach in 1963. In this episode, he remembers the team ranked number 1 in defense, three years out of four.
When Underwood was named head football coach for Southern Miss six years later, he knew some changes needed to be made. At that time USM was known as The Generals and the mascot was a character named General Nathan after Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest. That year Underwood signed Willie Heidelburg, the first black player for a major Mississippi school and felt it was time to find a new mascot and establish some new traditions. He recounts the programs and processes he put in place to accomplish those goals.
After a humiliating loss to Ole’ Miss the year before, USM was given no chance of winning their 1970 rematch. Coach Underwood recalls how the Eagles were able to beat the odds.
Coach David Dunaway grew up in Tylertown during the Great Depression. In this episode, he recalls how the town became his substitute family after his parents split up. Dunaway worked all through school to support himself and still found time to participate in sports. He credits the guidance he received from his coach and teachers for his decision to pursue a career in coaching/teaching at the junior high level.
Dunaway graduated high school in 1944 at the age of 17. He remembers playing for Mississippi State in the first college football game he ever saw, alongside State football legend, Shorty McWilliams.
PHOTO: Old postcard of the Tylertown High School
After being nominated and passed over seven times for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, former NFL punter, Ray Guy, was used to waiting by the phone. In this episode, he explains how the eighth time promised to be different.
Ensconced in his New York hotel room on Super Bowl weekend, Guy found himself sitting by the phone once again, wondering if this would finally be the year he got the call.
Ray Guy was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on August 2nd, 2014. He continues to work for his alma mater, Southern Miss.
William Ray Guy came to Hattiesburg, MS to play football for Southern Miss in 1970. As punter for the Golden Eagles, Guy’s kicks were known for their distance and pinpoint accuracy.
In this episode, Guy discusses his decision to play for USM. He also explains why for him, strategy was just as important as power.
In the 14 seasons Guy punted for the Oakland Raiders, the term hang-time was coined to describe his high, booming kicks. He discusses why they were so high and the time he hit the Super Dome TV screen.
Ray Guy became the first punter to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in August of 2014.