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.