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Southern Miss to The Top!

By Joel McNeece

An embarrassment of riches I would call it. Others might suggest it’s just an embarrassment.

Monday afternoon, Calhoun City High School Basketball Coach Daren Coffey called me asking for a favor. Ladavius Draine, his star forward who lit up the scoreboard and the hearts of all wearing orange and black in the CCHS gym bleachers the past few years, is signing Wednesday with The University of Southern Mississippi, my beloved alma mater, more commonly referred to as Southern Miss. Coach Coffey was looking for Southern Miss paraphernalia to decorate the school library with for Draine’s signing ceremony. When looking for USM apparel in Calhoun County, he called quite likely the only source from which you can get it.

I was honored to contribute to the celebration of this future Golden Eagle. The big dilemma, however, was exactly what to bring?

I have two throw blankets, a pillow, eight license plates, three flags, a fistful of stickers, a towel, two bird houses, two footballs, and I’m just getting started.

When I arrived home Monday night I went out to my “man cave,” or outdoor shed most would call it where I keep my Harley Davidson motorcycle, lawnmower and a few weights I pretend to lift every few years. Besides my closet and my office at The Journal, that shed is the only other evidence that I’m a Southern Miss alum. You won’t find any sign of it in my house, as I’m in a “mixed marriage” — an Ole Miss girl.

I gave it my best shot to make my beloved USM mean something to her. I proposed to her sitting by the picturesque fountain in front of the Administration Building on the Hattiesburg campus. It didn’t take. Neither did all her “Hotty Toddy” chants. So we came to a mutual understanding — the house is Ole Miss and Southern Miss free, except for clothing. And boy do I have that — T-shirts, polo shirts, dress shirts, ties, jackets, belts, socks, boxers, pajama pants, gloves, scarfs, hats and even a pair of shoes, although they wore out many years ago.

I pulled a couple of good looking shirts for the ceremony and one of the blankets and a nice hat. Looking around my shed I wasn’t sure what else was appropriate for a basketball star. I have a couple football helmets, a few posters, photos, even a USM clad Brett Favre figurine. I have a street sign from Green Bay — Brett Favre Way. My favorite is a string of Christmas lights that wraps around the ceiling of my shed. The little globes are all Golden Eagles. It’s priceless.

I considered two door mats that my wife won’t allow outside of the shed, a single floor mat for a truck someone gave me, and some old Eagle sunglasses that were a bit too faded.

In my office there’s a Southern Miss briefcase, a yard sign, another helmet, the birdhouses, and a Golden Eagle figurine I fail to recall where it came from. There’s a few pieces of USM pottery, lots of pictures, paintings and even a giant football print hanging behind my desk that was a wedding gift from the Alumni Association.

Not long ago an ardent Mississippi State supporter stood in the middle of my office, with all of this covering every shelf and wall, upset over what he saw as lack of coverage of the Bulldogs in the newspaper, claiming I was an Ole Miss guy. I was incredibly insulted, not by his suggestion that I didn’t write enough about the Dogs, but of being called an Ole Miss anything.

I think my wife may have suggested the gentleman was a little blind or something. I couldn’t help but laugh.

Back to my quest. I thought about my many USM coffee cups. I have two coolers, a lunchbox, backpack, a clock, stick pins and writing pens, and a pair of bookends emblazoned with Southern Miss. There’s a wallet, money clip, watch, several picture books, a few calendars, my diploma and an autographed Ricky Nobile cartoon of the Golden Eagle stomping on a Rebel and Bulldog all at once. Probably not the best of decor for this occasion, but it’s the thought that counts.

Southern Miss to the top!

Joel McNeece is publisher of The Calhoun County Journal in Bruce. You may email him at joelmcneece@gmail.com.