• 50°

200 rally, march for Alcorn coach’s ouster

Alcorn Alumnus Gloria Williams, left, and other alumni cheer during Saturday’s rally. (The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN)

[02/05/01] LORMAN About 200 Alcorn State University alumni and other supporters rallied and marched at the Lorman school Saturday, demanding that head football coach Johnny Thomas be fired.

“This is our hallowed place,” Mat Thomas Jr., treasurer of the Alcorn National Alumni Association, told those gathered next to Jack Spinks Stadium. “Our position today is for the administration to show some respect for the alumni association.”

The rally, organized by Alcorn alumni, was in protest of university President Clinton Bristow’s decision to retain Thomas despite his 0-11 finish this year, the first winless season in 42 years. Thomas, who had not been a football coach for nine years before joining Alcorn, has not had a winning season in his three years at the university.

No university administrators or other representatives were at the protest, and none could be contacted after.

As the group rallied and then marched from the football stadium and around the campus that is home to 3,000 students, alumni spoke up and chanted “Thomas must go.”

Davis Weathersby enrolled at Alcorn in 1951 and is now a member of the school’s booster group, the A-Club.

“When I came here, Alcorn was the school of champions,” he said. “Now, we are the school of chumps.”

Dr. Felix Dunn, a 1938 graduate of Alcorn now confined to a wheelchair, picked up the megaphone and told the group, “Any man who is an Alcornite would do the decent thing” in referring to Thomas, a former ASU football player.

Dunn told the group he was a former honor roll student and the captain of the football, debate and track teams while at the school.

“I’m not a pacifist,” he said. “Being a rebel in nothing new to me.”

Over the past few months, the alumni board has met with Bristow, Thomas and interim athletic director Marino Casem with no success, Mat Thomas said before the rally. He said the group also tried to meet with the Institution of Higher Learning Board of Trustees in January, but were turned down.

“Where else can you go?” Thomas asked.

Another graduate, JoElla Walls of Vicksburg, agreed. “It hurts me, being ignored. I’m an avid football fan, and I’ve been an avid supporter.

“Morale is down,” she added. “We can’t draw quality players or students without a winning athletic program.”

Student reaction to the situation was varied.

Walls’ son, senior golf team member John Walls III, said many students became frustrated with the football team’s performance last season and stopped attending games.

Junior agricultural business major Bert Morris said after the rally that Thomas “should be gone.”

Other students said they felt the rally was a waste of time.

“We have more issues than just a football team,” said Cedric Burrows, a sophomore majoring in English.

Eddie Downs, a junior music education major, said the school could stand some major improvements at its library and dormitories.

“Men’s Tower is a health hazard,” he said. “There are just bigger issues than Thomas not having a winning season.”

Bristow announced his decision to keep Thomas in December after meeting with Casem, Thomas, athletic club boosters and other school officials. Since, alumni have sought Thomas’s dismissal, and some have threatened to withhold financial support.

“You don’t reward incompetence, and you don’t get paid for failure,” state Rep. Phillip West of Natchez said during the rally.

Alumnus Mike Sims of Vicksburg said he has decreased his financial support of the university since the controversy over Thomas began.

Dr. John Walls of Vicksburg urged alumni at the rally to stay away from school athletic events and to withdraw financial support. He said the alumni association should set up an escrow account to hold money until things change.

“We must fight, and we will prevail because there is strength in numbers,” Walls told the group.

Alumni contribute about $250,000 a year to the university’s scholarship foundation, Mat Thomas said before the rally.

“Athletics generate funds, and losing teams do not generate people,” he added. “We’re not trying to run the institution, but we are saying that what we have now is not working.”

Thomas said if the rally gets no response from Bristow, the next step is to go to the college board again. “One day, they’re going to see us.”

Supporters concluded the rally by singing songs and waving signs while marching around Alcorn’s campus. Other alumni who spoke at the rally included Rep. Alyce Clarke of Jackson and alumni president James Minor.