Whenever I meet someone who asks me where I’m from, I always say “Pascagoula, Mississippi,” though that’s not entirely true.
I’m actually from an incorporated area between Helena and Big Point, but that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. And it always requires additional explanation.
It’s much easier to say Pascagoula, where a fictitious squirrel once went berserk and where there may or may not have been a real UFO abduction in 1973. Pascagoula — home of Singing River Hospital, Ingalls Shipbuilding, and until this week, The Mississippi Press.
That little underdog of a newspaper, founded in 1964, is not and probably never was as much of an institution as the hospital or the shipyard. But for more than six decades, it was home to dozens of writers, editors, ad salespeople and production staffers who worked hard to make sure that stories big and small were told in a fair, accurate and occasionally entertaining way for readers in Jackson County and the surrounding area.
I was happy and proud to be a part of that effort in two separate stints, first during the latter prime of the paper in the 1990s, when the staff numbered more than 100 crammed into the venerable one-story building on Delmas Avenue behind Resurrection Catholic School. I re-joined the paper some 10 years later, when there were fewer than a dozen employees in a rented office off Convent Avenue.
I grew up reading The Mississippi Press, devouring sports stories written by Mike Wixon and Mark Bryant every day after school. To me, they might as well have been Grantland Rice and Damon Runyan, and the Moss Point Tigers and Pascagoula Panthers were the New York Yankees and Dallas Cowboys.
Though I had hundreds of bylines in the paper during my time there, my father actually made news in a big way nearly two years before I was born. He was a Moss Point police officer shot three times in the line of duty on the day after Thanksgiving in 1971.
The fact that I’m sitting here and writing this essay tells you he survived, though he carried a bullet in his shoulder until he died at age 74 in 2019. I later learned that Mark’s father, Benny Bryant, was the county coroner at the time (our family was happy not to need his services). Mark’s older brother, Mike, was on the Highway Patrol and became one of my father’s best friends for the rest of Dad’s life.
Mark and I chose less-dangerous work, or at least I did. I never wound up on the business end of Moss Point coach Billy Miller’s track and field starter’s pistol as at least one unsuspecting sports writer did.
Coach Miller died just after my senior year at East Central High School, so I never got to cover him or his teams. I did get to write about the wonderful Moss Point teams of his successor, Jerry Alexander, as well as many great coaches and athletes at Pascagoula, Ocean Springs, Gautier, Vancleave, East Central, St. Martin, Resurrection, George County and Greene County, as well as at the various state colleges and even with the New Orleans Saints.
When asked who was the greatest high school athlete I ever covered, I used to have to think about it. Now, the answer is simple — Devin Booker.
I was there from the beginning of Devin’s Moss Point career in 2011, when he moved to the Coast from Michigan to re-join his father, Tigers basketball legend Melvin Booker. I covered dozens of Devin’s high school games, saw him drop 40 points on this team or that one, though never figuring he’d become the NBA superstar he is today.
That was a failure of imagination on my part, I suppose. But for the rest of my life when the subject of Booker comes up, I’ll be able to say “I was there, and I saw it.”
And for so many years, that’s what those of us who worked for The Mississippi Press tried to do — serve as the eyes and ears of Jackson County, be there to tell the important and interesting stories of our hometown (or our adopted hometown, as the case may be). Sadly, those days are now over.
The fate of The Mississippi Press is not unique, again sad to say. Community newspapers are dying all over the country, and have been for most of this century.
Other news outlets will try to fill the void, and some (including this website) have already been attempting to do so. There’s something to be said for the immediacy of the internet and the convenience of the 24-hour news cycle.
There are many more stories I could tell from my time working at The Mississippi Press, but in reality I’m no different than the people who read the paper over the years. As much as anything, I remember coming home from school, grabbing the newspaper out of the driveway, rolling off the rubber band and spreading out the front page to discover what was going on in Jackson County and the wider world on that day.
Thanks to The Mississippi Press, from the time I was old enough to read, if it happened in Jackson County, I was there and I saw it. It was an honor to share the experience with all of you.