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Pride of place has a lot to do with being Southern

“Championship Week,” the first weekend in December 2008 and so named because of high school and college championship football games, offered good insight into something known as pride of place.

The term “pride of place” is defined in most dictionaries as “the most important or highest position,” and typically refers to where an object is placed. In the context of which I speak, and in the South in particular, it means being proud of where one is from. How many times has someone been told to “Make us proud?” Making someone proud is to make them feel great satisfaction and esteem. A successful sports team is therefore a way to make a community proud. And every community that had a team involved in Championship Week feels a little prouder today regardless of who won the title game.

For me, the weekend began with an article in the Friday edition of the Wall Street Journal entitled. “What the Rise of Southern Football Says About America.” The article discussed how a population boom and a growing economy have turned the Southeastern Conference into a “national juggernaut.” It pointed out that a place — the Deep South — leads the nation in college football attendance, recent national champions, percentage of players sent to the National Football League and salaries paid to coaches. There is also mention of politics, race, culture and pride of place. A professor is quoted as saying that people from the South always say where they are from, even when they lived in a city outside the region for years. And while they rank low in many measures like per-capita income and educational achievement, states like Alabama and Mississippi rank close to the top in the percentage of high-school students who play football, according to the story. Among states with more than 10 native sons playing in the National Football League, the top six producers by percentage of population are Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Alabama, Florida and Georgia.

Friday afternoon found me sneaking home to watch the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 1A championship game in which the Puckett Wolves defeated Calhoun City on a chilly afternoon in Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium. Indeed, there was a delicious buffet of high school championships at that arena during the weekend. Folks who were unable to attend could watch every game on Mississippi Public Broadcasting as the contests happened. Yes, Virginia, high school football was on television. Community pride from all across the Magnolia State was in evidence as more than 36,000 fans flocked to the games in vehicles adorned with flags, decals and signs of their hometowns. By the way, I mention Puckett because it was in that Rankin County hamlet that I spent the first eight years of my life with a return there for my eighth grade year to care for an ailing relative. Consequently, I just had to pull for the Wolves. Pride of place, you understand, even though it was a long time ago that I resided there.

On Saturday, all eyes were on the Georgia Dome in Atlanta as the SEC championship game between Alabama and Florida played. The winner, Florida, will now play for the national championship against the almost-Southern team of Oklahoma.

Sports teams seem to have a way of creating pride of place. Travel to any city with a professional sports franchise and it is easy to engage almost anyone in a discussion about the team and the community. Taxi drivers, in particular, are up-to-the-minute sources of such information.

Abraham Maslow, the noted psychologist who developed the hierarchy of needs concept, said that once people meet the basic safety needs they move to meeting social needs. He said that humans need to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance. People can meet those needs by becoming involved in organizations, family circles and even sports teams.

For those who may not believe that sports teams have something to do with pride of place, I would simply offer a reminder to take a look at the welcome signs at the entrances to cities, especially rural communities in the South. Often there will be a small sign added to the official welcome sign proclaiming that the town is the home of the (fill in the year) District (fill in the number) Champions in some sport. Such will probably be the case at that little town on Highway 18 where that well-known billboard announces, “Welcome to Puckett — 300 good, friendly folks and a few old soreheads.”

Contact MBJ contributing columnist Phil Hardwick at phil@philhardwick.com.

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