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FINISHING TOUCHES: FNC, Oxford nearing end of preparation for championship games

November 21 may have been the last Ole Miss game to be played at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium before the construction of the new natural grass field begins, but there is still more football to be played.

The stadium will be the host to this year’s Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) football state championships Friday and Saturday.

Last year, Starkville hosted them in the games’ first season out of Jackson, and now Oxford welcomes 12 teams and their fans to town for the first time in the new setup. Oxford will get to host in 2017 as well.

FNC Park Director Brad Freeman and Assistant Director Clay Brownlee were put in charge by Oxford Mayor Pat Patterson nearly two years ago and have been strategizing and orchestrating a weekend that involves a lot of moving parts.

They got a jump on things a year ago when Starkville and Mississippi State University hosted the championships. They immediately came back to Oxford to begin the planning stages and come up with a budget.

Those 365 days of work are culminating this weekend.

“It all kind of came to a head during football season when we starting talking with Ole Miss,” Brownlee said. “They knew about it, but we wanted to get involved with them just before football season because we knew they’d be so busy. We’re kind of here at the last minute doing a couple things, but we’re pretty prepared and ready to go.”

The games kick off at 11 a.m. Friday and will run into the evening with the 6A game ending around 10 p.m. The same schedule will take place on Saturday with the 5A game, involving Oxford and Wayne County, beginning at 7 p.m.

The MHSAA is still the organization in charge, but FNC Park has been the local liaison between them and Ole Miss when it comes to communication and meetings.

Once the teams have made it to Oxford, their game day will begin with a pregame meal at the Oxford Conference Center. Chick-Fil-A will provide postgame meals for the teams.

They will then bus over to Ole Miss where they will participate in the Walk of Champions, much like teams did with the Bulldog Walk at MSU last year. They will then bus over to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

Ole Miss-like environment
With 11 teams plus the hometown Chargers descending upon Oxford this weekend, Brownlee is expecting nearly 40,000 people to visit the town over the two days.

St. Stanislaus and Petal have the furthest trek to make, but organizers are confident the turnout will be one that mirrors a Rebel football weekend.

“Teams that are in this, their fans travel well,” Brownlee said. “We’re hoping everybody comes in and checks out the town and goes downtown to see the Christmas lights and visit our businesses.”

Hosting an event such as this for the first time can be a daunting task, but with how many festivals, sporting events and other things of that nature, Oxford and FNC Park felt it was a perfect fit.

Three sides of Vaught-Hemingway will be open to fans as the North end zone has already begun its renovation process that will result in the stadium being bowled in by the 2016 season.

Simmons and Resurrection Catholic get the weekend started in the 1A state championship at 11 a.m. Friday.