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Wright joins select company

[7/8/04]As Lum Wright watched his life racing by on a video screen, he could barely believe what he was seeing.

Nearly a half-century after he coached his first football game, the country boy from Yokena was being honored as one of the all-time greats.

Wright, a Warren County native and former coach at Warren Central, Port Gibson and Chamberlain-Hunt, was inducted into the National High School Hall of Fame Monday night in San Diego.

He was one of 11 new members in the hall, a class that included former Southern Miss punter Ray Guy, former Notre Dame head coach Gerry Faust and three-time gold medal swimmer Debbie Meyer.

“I knew it was going to be mind-boggling, but I never in my life expected anything like that,” Wright said on Wednesday. “The guy sitting next to me won 23 state championships in Illinois, and said, Lum Wright, of all the coaches in the country, here sits you and I. Can you believe this?'”

Wright, who won 361 games during a 46-year coaching career in Texas and Mississippi, was honored in front of a crowd of about 1,000 people. A highlight reel of his career, which included interviews with family, friends, former players and other coaches, was shown when it was his turn to be inducted.

Mississippi High School Activities Association director Ennis Proctor, one of about 50 people from Mississippi who made the trip west for the ceremony and National Federation of High Schools’ annual convention, placed the hall of fame medallion around Wright’s neck to complete the coach’s induction.

Proctor played a large part in Wright’s election into the hall. He started the nomination process and helped it along until Wright was picked in March.

“He’s done so much for athletics in Mississippi, and for me,” Wright said.

Afterward, Wright got another shock during an autograph session when he was introduced to several of his hall of fame classmates. He had never met Guy or Faust before, although Guy had played against Wright’s sons, Keith and Lum Jr., when they were at Memphis.

“Ray Guy is a super human being. He’s just a good old country boy like us,” Lum Wright Sr. said with a laugh. “And when Gerry Faust calls you by your first name, it’s mind-boggling.”

Although he won’t be honored again, Wright still figures to get a warm reception at next year’s hall of fame banquet. The convention and ceremony is in San Antonio, Texas, not far from where his coaching career began.

Wright’s first job was at Ed Couch High School in Elsa, Texas, in 1954, and he added stops at Mission and Gilmer high schools before coming to Warren Central in 1971.

All of his sons also have coached in Texas, and the elder Wright has kept up with many of his former players in the Lone Star State. That should give next year’s banquet the feel of a family reunion.

“I’ve gotten 30, 40, 50 letters from kids that I coached 40 years ago,” Wright said. “They never forget.”