SCOOBA TRIP

October 16

Finally, my long-awaited trip to Scooba, Mississippi. Scooba, I had been told, was in Kemper County and two hours from Jackson; there was almost nothing in there except East Mississippi Community College. But everyone, it seemed, knew of their legendary football program, thanks to the overwhelming success of the Netflix series Last Chance U. EMCC would be hosting conference rival Holmes CC from Goodman, a small town about an hour north of Jackson. The Holmes mascot is the bulldog, but they are maroon and black—not maroon and white like the Mississippi State bulldogs. Mike, by the way, told me that his personal objective for our Scooba trip was to teach me how to trash talk.

When we reached the Scooba exit on U.S. 45 between Columbus and Meridian—and there was one turn for Scooba, without benefit of a traffic light—a large sign read EAST MISSISSIPPI COMMUNITY COLLEGE 1927. I was told that these two-year schools of higher learning were known for many years as junior colleges, as opposed to four-year institutions like Jackson State, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and Southern Mississippi. The experience works like a second chance for students, who perhaps didn’t do well in high school for any number of reasons.

Well, I was prepared. I had put a red shirt on that featured five stars above a white skull. I also put on eye black like the players wear. With my red lipstick and black leather pants I felt I looked the part—like I would be suiting up with the players!

When we reached the stadium entrance with our sideline passes, Coach Buddy Stephens stopped by to say hello. He looked exactly the same as he does on Last Chance U, with his white beard and sports hat. He introduced himself even though there was no need—we all knew who he was—and allowed us into the Lions’ Den to hear his motivational speech before his players took the field. This was my second coach’s speech in two days and I couldn’t have been more excited. Coach Stephens never raised his voice, though—it was more of an emotional moment with motivations like “Never quit hammering!” and “Keep the pressure on!” He added what he did in the Netflix episodes: “Everybody touch somebody.” I felt a firm hand on my shoulder. It belonged to Mike.

The Dog was right, by the way. This was a rough game! The Lions were far stronger and better organized than the HCC Bulldogs, and I saw from their appearance that they would probably strike fear in any opposing team—they were ranked Number One in the entire country in the national community college football poll. I was trying to imagine how scary it would be to sprint for the end zone with the ball, thinking, I got this, just a few yards more, and you feel more than hear heavy footsteps behind you . . . almost like a horror movie! I think I’d toss the ball aside and sprint off the field toward safety. But these guys, not unlike the high school players I’d seen, are more than willing to risk being hurt for love of their team and the game itself.

When we reached the Scooba exit on U.S. 45 between Columbus and Meridian—and there was one turn for Scooba, without benefit of a traffic light—a large sign read EAST MISSISSIPPI COMMUNITY COLLEGE 1927. I was told that these two-year schools of higher learning were known for many years as junior colleges, as opposed to four-year institutions like Jackson State, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and Southern Mississippi. The experience works like a second chance for students, who perhaps didn’t do well in high school for any number of reasons.

Well, I was prepared. I had put a red shirt on that featured five stars above a white skull. I also put on eye black like the players wear. With my red lipstick and black leather pants I felt I looked the part—like I would be suiting up with the players!

When we reached the stadium entrance with our sideline passes, Coach Buddy Stephens stopped by to say hello. He looked exactly the same as he does on Last Chance U, with his white beard and sports hat. He introduced himself even though there was no need—we all knew who he was—and allowed us into the Lions’ Den to hear his motivational speech before his players took the field. This was my second coach’s speech in two days and I couldn’t have been more excited. Coach Stephens never raised his voice, though—it was more of an emotional moment with motivations like “Never quit hammering!” and “Keep the pressure on!” He added what he did in the Netflix episodes: “Everybody touch somebody.” I felt a firm hand on my shoulder. It belonged to Mike.

The Dog was right, by the way. This was a rough game! The Lions were far stronger and better organized than the HCC Bulldogs, and I saw from their appearance that they would probably strike fear in any opposing team—they were ranked Number One in the entire country in the national community college football poll. I was trying to imagine how scary it would be to sprint for the end zone with the ball, thinking, I got this, just a few yards more, and you feel more than hear heavy footsteps behind you . . . almost like a horror movie! I think I’d toss the ball aside and sprint off the field toward safety. But these guys, not unlike the high school players I’d seen, are more than willing to risk being hurt for love of their team and the game itself.

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