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BILL CRAWFORD: Mississippi’s sports heritage second to none


Bill Crawford

“Stories worth remembering and savoring … again and again,” said Robin Roberts, co-host of Good Morning America.

Stories remembered and savored in the telling by Rick Cleveland in his book “Mississippi’s Greatest Athletes.”
Do you know the story of Roy and Commodore Cochran?  “Cousins of Sen. Thad Cochran, both were track and field gold medalists, Commodore in 1924 and Roy 24 years later,” wrote Cleveland. Roy won two gold medals in the 1948 Olympics.
Or the early story of legendary Delta State baseball coach Boo Ferris? “In 1946, he won 13 consecutive games at Fenway Park. That is still a major league record,” wrote Cleveland.
Cleveland tells their stories plus those of greats like Bailey Howell, Charlie Conerly, and Willye B. White.  Then there’s Brett Favre, Jerry Rice, Peggie Gillom, and on and on.
“When you read through the pages of this book, you will see what I am talking about when I say that Mississippi’s sports heritage is second to none,” wrote Archie Manning in the forward to the book.
Where do all these stories come from?  Some from Cleveland’s 40 years as a writer covering Mississippi sports, but most from the one place that gathers, preserves, cherishes, and re-tells the stories of Mississippi’s greatest athletes – the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.
Robin Roberts made her comments at the close of the 1995 film she narrated for the museum.
“We need a new film,” said Cleveland, the decorated sports writer and author who took over as executive director of the museum in 2012 following the death of Michael Rubenstein.
“It is also outdated,” he said of the 20-year-old production. “Mississippians have won three NFL MVPs, three Super Bowl MVPs, and numerous Olympic medals in those two decades.”
On the day I dropped by to pick up two autographed copies of his book, I watched the old film and must agree it’s time for a new, high-def, updated version. Cleveland was meeting with officials from the Mississippi Film Office about a new film.  The projected cost is $250,000, a lot, but nothing compared to our priceless sports heritage. The museum, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, has begun fund-raising for the film (go to msfame.com).
Before I left, Cleveland took me by a video kiosk and punched up Shorty McWilliams, “the SEC’s only four-time all-SEC back in the league’s history.”  You can see “Shorty Mac” telling the story of his first game at LSU’s Tiger Stadium:
“Unbeknownst to me, they rolled Mike the Tiger’s cage right up behind me. I didn’t know he was there, and that 500-pound tiger roared.” Go see the rest of the story at the museum, or read it in Rick’s book.
And help the museum continue to gather, preserve, cherish, and re-tell the stories or our greatest athletes.
» Bill Crawford is a syndicated columnist from Meridian (crawfolk@gmail.com)



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