By Tina H. Hahn
University of Mississippi
Twenty-five inaugural recipients of the Mississippi Excellence in Coaching Fellowship – a program hosted by the University of Mississippi School of Education in partnership with the Mississippi Association of Coaches and the Mississippi High School Activities Association – are expected to increase their impact on student-athletes and their communities.
The coaching fellowship is the idea of Hunter Taylor, an Ole Miss clinical assistant professor of teacher education who is directing the 10-month program based on the belief that high school and middle school coaches have long been “some of society’s most influential figures.”
Taylor is uniquely qualified to direct the coaching fellowship. He spent 10 years as a men’s basketball coach on the college, high school, middle school and international levels, having started his coaching career in Jackson Public Schools.
“The goal is for the selected candidates to have this time to deliberately work on their craft in a cohort of their peers, so that ultimately their student-athletes and overall communities benefit for years to come,” Taylor said. “All of the selected candidates have demonstrated a commitment to place, in addition to a commitment to the coaching profession.
“We believe that by providing more access to proven resources, utilizing deliberate time for reflection and fostering a strong network of like-minded peers across the state, more student-athletes in the state of Mississippi will receive the benefits of having a highly knowledgeable, dedicated coach in their lives.”
A committee of educators was tasked with selecting 25 emerging leaders who have demonstrated that they are committed to pursuing the coaching profession as a career in Mississippi. Final selections had to represent the values of the coaching fellowship – love of young people and a desire to develop them for life within the context of sports – and had to be diverse in gender, ethnicity, sport and region of the state.
“The ability to forge personal relationships, work toward a goal, increase motivation, provide friendship and teach life lessons are just a few of the benefits that come with having a great coach,” Taylor said. “This project is about celebrating their work and helping them make an even greater impact on their teams, schools and communities.”
Called Tomorrow’s 25, the inaugural class members and their schools are:
- Issac Boose, football and powerlifting, and Chris Patton, track and cross country, Oxford High School
- Jake Bramlett, football, Ocean Springs High School
- LaRoskee Brown, football, Humphreys County High School
- Jessie Bryant, football and baseball; John M. Kitele, tennis; and Felix Russ, powerlifting and track, Noxubee County High School
- Blakeley Chancelor, football, and Tre Collins, basketball, Meridian High School
- Taylor Huey Elliott, volleyball, Lafayette High School
- Ashley Hilton Ford, softball, DeSoto Central High School
- John Haberman, football and basketball, Saint Stanislaus High School
- Jackie A. Hill, track and field, B.F. Liddell Middle School
- Nyjuria Johnson, softball, Oakhurst Intermediate Academy
- Alexia Jones, basketball, Pelahatchie High School
- Joshua Luckett, basketball, Northwest Rankin High School
- Holly Moncrief, basketball, Lake High School
- Mandy Moore, basketball, East Tallahatchie High School
- LaCambrise Pope, basketball, South Panola High School
- Tate Rogers, football, Madison Central High School
- Ashli Sutton, basketball, Callaway High School
- Frank Sutton Jr., football and basketball, Kirksey Middle School
- Taylor Taylor, softball, Cleveland Central High School
- Ricardo Tigler, football, and Veronica Walker, basketball, Leland High School
Patton, a teacher at Oxford Middle School and head cross country and track coach, said Tomorrow’s 25 is helping him grow not only as a “coach but also as a teacher, person, husband and friend.”
“A lot of times as coaches, we focus so much on the wins and losses, and coaching is so much more than that,” he said. “It’s about the student-athlete as a whole, understanding their needs on and off the field.
“Building those strong relationships while you have them, adding another person to their support system, is so important to their growth. My goal is to help them achieve their goals, and this program will give me the tools moving forward to do that.”
Liddell Middle School’s Hill said she is “genuinely elated” to be chosen for the program.
“The program allows coaches from around Mississippi to come together to solve problems and deeply reflect on their perspective of sports and ways to improve them,” she said. “Another benefit of the program is that it encourages us to foster professional relationships with others to build a community of coaches dedicated to becoming Tomorrow’s next 25 great leaders.”
Each month a proven leader speaks to the cohort. Mike Clement, the Ole Miss national championship baseball team’s hitting and third-base coach, has addressed the group, as have James Miller, Mississippi State University’s assistant men’s basketball coach, and Toyelle Wilson, head coach of Southern Methodist University’s women’s basketball team.
“Our organization believes in the transformational power of the coach, and we could not be more excited about how this fellowship will benefit our coaches and ultimately our student-athletes for years to come,” said Johnny Mims, executive director of the MAC.
“We’re always going to be in the business of doing what is best for student-athletes and coaches, and we believe this is going to be a game-changer for our state,” said Rickey Neaves, executive director of the MHSAA.
Taylor, who holds degrees from the University of Texas, Ole Miss and Baylor University, released two leadership books in 2022. The first, “How to Build a Thick Institution,” is a reflection on his and Chris Cutcliffe’s work of redesigning Oxford High School’s football program.
The second, “Draw the Line,” is a nonfiction story about the impact a high school football staff made over the course of 30 years in three rural East Texas communities.
Named a Presidential Leadership Scholar by the Bush Institute and Clinton Foundation in 2018, Taylor is also co-host of the “Coach & Doc” podcast, which aims to share best coaching and leadership practices with its listeners.
The Mississippi Excellence in Coaching Fellowship is open to receive private support from individuals and organizations and has received a gift from the Sturdivant Family Fund. Checks, with the fund’s name written in the memo line, can be sent to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655, or gifts can be made online at https://nowandever.olemiss.edu.
For more information, contact Kelly Smith Marion, associate director of development, at email@example.com or 662-915-2007.