Pascagoula and the Golden Age of Sports

Quote of the Day:     “Friday night at the stateline bar, where the waterfront people dwell; I better watch my step, if the floor caves in, I’ll go right straight to hell.”     –Jimmy Buffett, The Pascagoula Run

Link of the Day:     TB’s Golden Age of Sports

If you are new to the Travellinbaen blog, you will notice that its been dominated lately with talk of elections for the Jackson County Sports Hall of Fame. If you are from Pascagoula, all the debate and discussion undoubtedly seems very important, interesting and long overdue. However for readers less familiar with my hometown, it may seem a bit melodramatic. I thought it would be a good idea to write about how all this came about and to try and convey why it is such a big deal to those of us native to Goula.

Several months ago I wrote the post linked above, reminiscing about the sports world of my childhood. That led me to post about the great Rooster Jones, a Pascagoula tailback who helped lead the Panthers to the 1976 Mississippi state championship. That post has been the most frequently searched post of the site, and its popularity led to the creation of the Jackson County Sports Hall of Fame that is being passionately debated on the site right now. All of these posts have increased the readership of the blog and have allowed me to reconnect with some old friends and to meet some new ones. I have a lot of fun with this blog, and the participation of each of you is what makes it worthwhile. I am hoping that old friends who have been participating in the discussion will also join in on other topics and that the blog will continue to grow and improve, both in content and audience. There have been enough delusions of grandeur in my life to know that it’s unlikely I’ll ever make a career at writing, but I’ve found pursuing the dream is a fulfilling activity in itself. Much like playing sports as a kid.

Pascagoula in the 1970’s and 1980’s was a bustling place. Ingall’s Shipyard experienced rapid growth and several industries at Bayou Cassotte were thriving. In a state dominated by agricultural interests on the one hand and the old guard blue bloods on the other, Pascagoula was neither. It was a true blue collar town, and the men who came home from work every day around four o’clock were tired, oily and dusty and strong and tough and they produced kids that were just like them. We kids spent our time playing at getting tired and dirty and growing strong like our old men. If you could take satellite imagery of Pascagoula from those days and zoom in where you wanted you would find baseball games going on in every neighborhood every day of summer. If it was winter you’d find football games. You would see that virtually every driveway had a basketball hoop and you would find those driveways crammed with kids after every school day. On weekends, I recall hating that I had to go to church on Sunday because it meant my Dad and I would not be able to find a field for batting practice by the time we got out. Every schoolyard, vacant lot and of course all the baseball, soccer and softball fields would be claimed by someone else by the time we’d start looking. And there were dozens of places to play ball back then.

From age 8 to 18, the kids in Pascagoula would spend their summers hopping on their bikes or on the handlebars of some other kid’s bike to ride over to Gibson Field and play in elaborate unorganized ballgames. Getting the chance to be on the same team with some of my heroes, many of whom have commented on this site, was a thrill and is still one of my fondest childhood recollections. Those guys were heroes because they were good. 

From Dixie Youth Baseball up to Pascagoula High’s all sports program, Goula boys excelled and did it with style. We wore the best looking uniforms. We were aggressive. We were combative. One thing I learned when I went to college is that most of the rest of the state could agree on one thing when it came to amateur sports in Mississippi–they all hated Pascagoula. Man, I still relish that. Even the other towns on the Gulf Coast, separate from the rest of Mississippi culturally and economically are united in their disdain for Pascagoula. They hated Pascagoula because its teams pulled trick plays, slid hard into second, brought big crowds, rode the umpires and referees unmercifully, gloated in victory and howled in defeat. And I think they hated us because we were a social anomaly in our state. And we won a lot. 

It was a challenge to each generation of kids to meet the standard set by those a few grades ahead of us. We were cheered on by our elders and idolized by the little ones. We all bonded, knowing subconsciously our town was different and we were privileged to wear that “P” on our hat. If you were lucky enough to play for a team that won a state championship, it meant–it means–having permanent credibility in our sports world as someone who has carried on our traditions. If you were on a high school championship team, the honor is even greater. And in true Southern tradition, if you were on a team that lost the big one in controversy or heartbreak, your story is given space in the hierarchy of our collective memory alongside those of the victors.

Outside of sports, Pascagoula never had much to brag about. The industries that brought the good jobs and the tough kids also made the town lose ground in what is nowadays called “liveability.” Much of the beauty of the place can only be seen by a native who knows where to look. Many of the kids who grew up and stayed to work in Pascagoula now live out in the county, where not coincidentally the athletics have dramatically improved in recent years. Others of us have moved away altogether in pursuit of better opportunities. But we all miss those days. We all feel our old connections strongly. We all defend our hometown and support our teams. And we honor our heroes, even though it is all, admittedly, a bit melodramatic.

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About travellinbaen

I'm a 40 year old lawyer living in Ridgeland, Mississippi. I'm several years and a couple hundred miles removed from most of my old running buddies so I started the blog to provide an outlet for many of the observations and ideas that used to be the subjects of our late night/happy hour/halftime conversations and arguments.
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8 Responses to Pascagoula and the Golden Age of Sports

  1. Zeek says:

    TB, couldn’t have said it better myself. Is this the same post, but updated? Didn’t you already have a Golden Age of Sports post? Oh, nevermind, that was just sports(pro) not Goula,ok. And I was not whining before buddy, I have to give you and Sterno a hard time, that is part of the entertainment value.

  2. quail09 says:

    TB….dude, there’s something undoubtedly special about pascagoula….i used to roll my eyes when my dad would draw attention to something pascagoula excelled in….or some person who succeeded in this arena or that…..and i got ribbed unmercifully by fellow ole miss football players when i spoke up about some of our great players….or about jimmy buffet….or whatever…..but they wanted us at their parties and on the field when we played our fiercest foes…and they loved our women (or wanted to)….i’ve truly never understood why some college program hasn’t looted the local programs around this area….the closest was State back in the 70’s and 80’s with all the MP guys…..i’ve personally experienced some of the disdain dished out by folks from rival towns around the state…but back in 1976, i truly felt like it was respect for a place that could produce an enormous amount of athletic talent in every sport….not just good talent, but exceptional talent year after year….i’m grateful to have grown up in the era you described, and i think you captured a bit of the essence of a special place (all melodrama aside)

  3. Quail, Zeek, and Jester (on the other thread) thanks for the positive feedback. This one makes all the sense in the world to me, but I was curious how you guys would see it.

  4. Zeek says:

    No problem TB, I like what Quail had to say also.

    I have always (some can attest to this) claimed that the big 3 in this state are crazy for not recruiting down here. Would you rather have a proven player from here or Tishomingo Central?? A lot of the Miss. players signed are from 1A-3A schools. There are exceptions of course, but much more competition in 4A-5A,esp. down here.

    Our women are the best!

  5. Stan says:

    TB

    You just nailed it. I understand what you mean by what we felt subconsciously. You’re also right about howling when we won state and being blue-collar pissed when we lost a big one. When I was 14, we had to beat Hattiesburg twice to win state. We won the first game and lost the second. We were in Laural, and the teams could not shake hands after game 2.. The situation was emotional and out of control. Players on both teams had been hit by pitches and the whole nine. That one still hurts.

  6. cue says:

    Great post Ben. I don’t know how many of my Home Run and Game Balls got fouled if in that ditch behind Webb May field in the numerous sand-lot games we used to play growing up. Nowadays kids will write them up and put them in their trophy cases. Back in the day we tossed them around like useless garbage. We would play until it was time to chalk the fields off for the games that night. Then go home and slip into our uniform and head right back down there. I wish I had a $1.00 for every Bolonga Sandwhich that my mother brought to us for lunch. Those were the good old days.

  7. When BR, Zeek, Sweet, Puddinhead and I were at the State Tourney opening ceremonies when we were 12 we were last to be introduced at the banquet because we were District 7, the highest number. Every other team got up and walked single file and quietly to line up and be introduced. Coach Six made us let out a war cry when they called our name. It set the tone then and there we were gonna be the aggressors. And after every win, he sent us on a victory lap. I never saw a team from other towns do that….then again, they didn’t have that many chances.

    I also remember a group of the older guys driving over to St Martin to watch us win the title game. That was a proud subpart to a great night, and I always later tried to attend as many games as I could for the younger guys, partly because of what it meant for me.

  8. Jonathan says:

    TB, This is not what I had in mind. I just wanted to hycihtetopally dicuss an all-time baseball team from Goula, the same way we did football. Seems things have gotten skewed. I do not pretend to know enough about the rest of Jackson Co. sports figures of past to even begin to discuss. I think you would be hard pressed to find many who could, except for maybe AJ Giardina(JK) and a few other old-timers who actively followed area high school sportsfor the past 50-60 yrs. I just know Goula from 70 s(a little 60 s from lore) to now. So, I will give list of all-time Goula team as I see it, and let the chips fall where they may. I tried to pick those who either went somewhere due to baseball, had the talent to do so, or was just dominant during his tenure.Coach- Doug Horn an old timer who played for PHS and then coached in 60 s did a lot for program as i hear itPitchers-Jimmy Colmer-Ole MissBlair Varnes-Florida St.Phillip Haigler-VandyMike Seaman-PerkKirk Larson-PerkCleon Davidson-Faulkner St??Position Players-Mike and Guy Summerlin-Ole MissEric Lane-Tulane/San Fran GiantsBubba Toups- Miss St.Bobby and Billy Collins- I don’t know where they went but they were awesome athletesJohnny Zelenka-TulaneJohnny Olsen-TulanePaul Tanner-Perk?Mike Thomas-?Perk?Keith Coleman-Univ Little Rock ArkansasMike Moreland-USMRobin Higginbotham-Minor Leagues?Enrico Jones-Miss St.Kirk Kinard- MillsapsI do not certify that all info above is correct, but it’s atleast 95%. I realize there are many that I left out before my time and after my time,(it is my era) that is why those older and younger than me should rationally put up their candidates and see who measures up. REGARDLESS, that is a damn fine group of ball players I just named.

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