So, I received an interesting phone call a couple of months ago. Dan Lee, president of the Jackson County Historical and Genealogical Society (JCHGS), said, “We want you to come speak at one of our monthly meetings about the history of sports in Jackson County”.
Whoa. Number one, that’s one heck of a wide-ranging topic to address. Number two, these JCHGS folks are serious about research and authenticity—this would be a tough audience.
But, hey, I had to give it a go. I told Dan, “If you’re expecting me to come up with ‘in June of 1824, there was a bare-knuckle boxing match held on the river bank in Gautier’, I’m probably not your guy, but I’ll do the best I can”. So it was that I showed up at the Society’s April 25 meeting to present, yep, “The History of Sports in Jackson County.”
In preparing for my discourse, my already healthy respect for the art and science of doing research was increased even further. I spent a good bit of time going through local newspaper archives, books speaking to the subject, and other source material. I also utilized my crack research specialist, Gary Stevens, and called upon my own taxed memory bank.
The resulting product turned out to be quite revealing. We all know that we have a rich sports history in Jackson County, but, man, do we have quite the treasure chest on the playing fields, courts, and courses around here.
I’m obviously not going to wear you out with the entire speech text in this missive, but let’s look at some selected highlights:
- Pascagoula High School first fielded a football team in 1919, and Moss Point High started in 1925.
- PHS won the state football championship in 1947, 1976, and 1987. Moss Point took the crown in 1983, 1991, 1996, 1997, and 2001.
- There have been eight Jackson Countians make it to Major League Baseball: Sam Leslie, Hal “Pappy “ Lee, Red Bullock, Claude Passeau, Harry “The Hat” Walker, Kim Seaman, Tony Sipp, and Joey Butler. Harry Walker won the National League batting championship in 1947 with an average of .363.
- The first golf course in Jackson County was Gulf Hills Country Club, which opened in Ocean Springs in 1927.
- Starting in the 1940s, the Longfellow House Resort in Pascagoula had one of only two clay tennis courts in the entire region.
- In 1946, the All-American Girls Baseball League (popularized in the movie, “A League of Their Own”) sent its players to Pascagoula for spring training.
- In 2015, Pascagoula’s Sarah Bailey Thomas became the first-ever female referee in the National Football League.
- Jackson County has dominated Mississippi over the years in high school baseball. State championships have been won by Pascagoula (1967, 1968, 1983, 1996, 2012), East Central (2008, 2022), Ocean Springs (1982, 2008), Vancleave (2021), and Resurrection Catholic School (2022). As we speak, RCS is in the third round of this year’s playoffs, going for a repeat.
Again, the above is just a sampling of the nuggets we collected. No, I didn’t uncover the stats from an archery competition in Hurley in 1797, but I did lead off by reminding the group that athletic-type activities in Jackson County obviously started with our Native American tribe of Pascagoulas and with the first European settlers.
The large crowd of history and genealogy buffs did, in fact, seem to genuinely enjoy the presentation. We had a robust Q&A/discussion period, with many attendees recalling factoids and old stories themselves.
The evening certainly served to reinforce something our local residents and others throughout the area already know: when it comes to athletic endeavors, Jackson County has a rich and colorful history second to none. Now, does anybody have any scoop on stickball in Three Rivers in the early 1900s?