The Wright stuff: Former WC coach elected to national coaches hall of fame

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 18, 2004

Lum Wright shows off the game ball given to him after his 300th career win in 1991. Wright, a former coach of Warren Central, Port Gibson and Chamberlain-Hunt, has been selected to the National Federation of State High School Associations Hall of Fame. The induction is scheduled for July 5 in San Diego. (Melanie Duncan ThortisThe Vicksburg Post)

[3/18/04]Each of the trophies in Lum Wright’s house has a story to tell.

There’s his collection of old Coke bottles that date back more than a century, bringing dreams of faraway lazy summer days in Mississippi.

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The bed he sleeps in is the same one his grandfather was born in, back in 1892.

Each of his more than 400 Indian arrowheads tells a tale of some forgotten ancient hunt or battle, or the family trip that unearthed them.

And then there’s the footballs, which help tell the story of the man himself. Each one carries a number, marking off memorable victories like mileposts on the road to immortality.

Wright’s creased face shows the wear of the journey, but a broad smile breaks across it when he talks of the latest stops Oklahoma, Mexico, and, in July, San Diego for enshrinement in the National Federation of State High School Associations Hall of Fame.

Wright, a Warren County native who won 361 games during a 46-year coaching career that included stops at Warren Central, Port Gibson and Chamberlain-Hunt, has been selected to the NFHS Hall of Fame. He is just the fourth Mississippian, and the first coach from the state, to earn that honor.

Another Mississippi coach, Lindy Callahan, is also in the NFHS Hall of Fame, but was inducted as an athletic director.

“They tell me San Diego is a mighty beautiful place. We’re going to find out,” said Wright, who will be inducted on July 5, two days after his 73rd birthday. “This is as high as you can go, and being the first coach from Mississippi just makes it awesome.”

Wright made his biggest mark in coaching at Warren Central, but got his start in Texas.

After graduating from Mississippi College, Wright was offered a job at another alma mater, Jett High in Vicksburg. The pay was lower than he had hoped for, though. So for an extra $500 a year he packed up and headed west.

The head coach’s job at Ed Couch High School in Elsa, Texas, paid just under $3,000 a year when the 23-year-old Wright took it in 1954. It was a way to break into the profession he had pursued since high school, but he didn’t intend to stay in Texas long.

“I told my wife, let’s go try it for one year.’ Seventeen years later we came back home,” Wright said. “Texas will grow on you. I’m not surprised a lot of my boys went back out there.”

After six years and 48 wins in Elsa, Wright moved down the road to Mission, Texas. The tiny town just six miles from the Mexican border was home until 1968, when he took over at Gilmer High in northeast Texas.

Before leaving Mission, however, Wright changed the lives of one of his players forever.

Bobby Jack Wright no relation was a young kid from a broken home when Lum Wright came to Mission. His parents had divorced, and Bobby Jack lived with his mother.

He struck up a friendship with Lum Wright’s children in school, and before long was like an adopted son to the family. He would go to practices in summer, eat at the Wright family’s home, and tag along on family outings.

By the time he started high school and became a linebacker for Mission in the mid-1960s, Bobby Jack knew what he wanted to do for a living.

After high school, Bobby Jack went on to play baseball at Southwest Texas State and then went into football coaching. He has coached nearly every position on the field at one time or another, and served as defensive ends coach and recruiting coordinator for Oklahoma’s 2000 national championship team.

“I knew at a very early age that I wanted to be a football coach. Things probably would have been different, and maybe not for the better,” Bobby Jack Wright said with a laugh. “I wasn’t a wild kid, but coming from a broken home he was a great influence on me.”

Years later, at Chamberlain-Hunt, Lum Wright again housed several troubled players from the boarding school. Over the years, he has seen former players go on to become doctors, lawyers, and businessmen, and said he was happy to play a part in building their successful foundations.

“He raised us and then he helped others,” Wright’s son, Lum Jr., said. “He gave back to those kids that gave him so much.”

Touching lives in a positive way gave him his biggest joy from coaching, the elder Wright said.

“I wasn’t a very good athlete, and I said the next best thing is coaching. After I realized how many thousands of kids you touch and help, I guess that’s why I stayed in it so doggone long,” Lum Wright said. “I told (his son) Keith, take those 361 wins and multiply it by 100, and that’s the number of lives I’ve been involved with.”