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Blue Waves go 7-4 for first winning season in eight years

When Bo Wright took over as the head coach at Port Gibson High School three seasons ago, he had no idea what he was getting into.

He stepped into a program that had no junior high team, hadn’t had a winning season or playoff appearance since he was last there as an assistant with his father, Lum Wright, six years earlier, and was in the middle of a losing streak that would last more than 20 games.

Wright’s Blue Waves broke the losing streak in 1999, but finished just 2-9.

Undaunted, Wright predicted his team would challenge for a playoff spot in 2000.

The Blue Waves failed to qualify, but finished 7-4 for their first winning season since 1992, a turnaround that helped Wright earn the Vicksburg Post’s Area Coach of the Year award.

“We’ve put a lot of hard work into it the last three years, there’s no doubt about that. I’m real proud of where these kids have gotten to,” Wright said, adding that his staff, particularly assistant coach Patrick Hargro, played a big part in the turnaround. “The whole team and coaching staff is finally starting to gel, it’s finally starting to come together, we’ve all finally gotten used to each other. That takes a process. Especially with somebody who’s as hard-headed as I am.”

When Wright arrived before the 1998 season, the program was in shambles due to several years of neglect. Looking back on that first 0-11 season, Wright simply shakes his head.

“I didn’t realize how bad it was when I took the job. I had been told it was bad, but in my mind I just didn’t realize how bad it was,” Wright said. “No junior high program, only a handful of kids that have ever played football before trying to play the big dogs. We really didn’t have a chance. We made some improvement during the year, but we really didn’t have a chance to win.”

To say the Waves were awful in 1998 is an understatement. Blowout losses occurred as frequently as the weekly pep rallies. But Wright and the Waves laid the foundation for the future in that first season together.

Several of this year’s key players quarterback Ocie Brown, running back Mason Denham and linebacker Dexter Evans got plenty of experience as freshmen and sophomores.

Port Gibson went 2-9 in 1999, but the blowouts were more rare. With a few breaks, the Waves could have threatened the .500 mark, and three players defensive lineman Jadice Moore (Mississippi State) and linebackers Quaterrial Hughes and JaKelcy Johnson (Alcorn State) went on to play Division I football.

Finally, in 2000, the hard work began to pay off. The Waves got off to a 5-1 start, the defense didn’t allow more than 18 points in any game in that stretch, and the offense was adequate.

Then Denham, who had rushed for 795 yards and four touchdowns in Port Gibson’s first five games, broke his arm early in a 27-0 win over Hinds AHS. The Waves won that game, but Wright says they lost their focus.

Port Gibson stumbled in key district games against Amite County and Wilkinson County the next two weeks, crushing its playoff hopes. The Waves rallied to win two of their last three, however, giving them a 3-3 mark in division play and their best season in eight years.

“We’re a little disappointed we didn’t make the playoffs. Very disappointed we didn’t make the playoffs,” Wright said. “But at the same time, I’m extremely proud of where the kids have come from and what it took to get there.”

It seemed like the only people not caught off guard by the Waves’ success were the coaches in Division 6-3A, who picked Port Gibson to win the division.

And, of course, Wright, who has finally seen the talent in Claiborne County develop into winners.

“I guess I’ve been around my father so long, I’m disappointed it took this long,” Wright said with a laugh, referring to his father, former Chamberlain-Hunt coach Lum Wright, the third-winningest high school coach in history.

“I never expected it to take to the third year before we had a winning season. Maybe not a shot at the playoffs, but a winning season. And that just shows you how far gone the program was and that shows you how far we had to go.”