October 20, 2005

Fielder’s Choice
By Barry Burleson

Back to ICC

I went to homecoming Saturday, at Itawamba Community College in Fulton.

It wasn’t really a homecoming for me, because I’m not a graduate of that fine institution. I went because my mentor in this business and really my “second mother,” Rubye Del Harden, was being honored as ICC’s Alumnus of the Year.

But once I arrived in Fulton Saturday, it seemed a bit like going home for me, too.

That’s because I cut my journalism teeth there, first as sports editor, then as managing editor, of The Itawamba County Times.

That’s also where I met my wife Pam, at the Church of Christ, where her father was the minister. He later married us there.

We owned our first home in Fulton, and our first child, Emma, was born while we lived there.

One of the first persons I saw when I walked into the reception Saturday afternoon before the football game was Mike Eaton.

Eaton, now vice president at ICC, was the head football coach when I arrived to basically start a sports section for The Times back in 1986.

It was my first time to see junior college football, much less cover it. I’ve never had more fun.

Junior college football in Mississippi is big. It’s some of the hardest hitting football I’ve ever seen.

Coach Eaton was a winner. And he could always be depended on for a colorful quote. Some of my best times ever were walking the sideline with Coach Eaton and his staff.

Plus he chewed grass. That’s right. He would pull grass from the field during the heat of the games, put it in his mouth, then spit it out - most of the time. I always accused him of eating grass.

Saturday after the ceremony, I asked him if he was still chewing grass.

He laughed a big laugh, and said, “Sometimes.”

I often spent Sunday afternoons at the field house with him, watching game film and getting stats and quotes.

I went along on the bus for most road games.

One of my most memorable trips with the ICC football team came in my last season to cover them. We went on a long bus ride to the mountains of North Carolina for a bowl game.

But my most memorable game ever was the last one in the old stadium, between the bricks, located in the center of campus. ICC won on a last-second field goal.

Fans were on top of the action in the small stadium, and the field was surrounded by a brick wall.

It was intimidating to visiting teams, to say the least.

Pam and I saw other good friends Saturday - ones we had not seen in a long time. And Emma and Andy had a chance to get acquainted with a place we used to call home. Erin visited my family in Alabama.

Andy, always looking for another cap, bought an Itawamba one.

During the football game I visited with former ICC baseball coach Roy Cresap, now retired.

Longtime men’s basketball coach Wayne Newsom, also retired, could not attend due to a death in the family. Girls’ coach back when I was covering ICC was Max Munn.

I learned a lot from those four coaches, and they became not just coaches I was getting stories from each week, but very good friends.

They were patient with the new kid in town and the still somewhat green journalist.

But because of them and their teams, I was able to build an award-winning sports section, one recognized twice as the best in the state, but most importantly one that served the community well.

Going back to Fulton and ICC brings back fond memories of the friendships, the championships, the co-workers, the awards.

And I have even fonder memories of meeting Pam, and being around Pam’s dad, Phil Hefley, who passed away in 1998.

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