Return of Olympic champion adds golden touch to year

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 27, 2004

Olympic gold medalist Otis Harris of Edwards shows off his medals during a parade in his honor through downtown Edwards in October. Harris, a former Hinds AHS standout, also won a silver medal in the 2004 Athens Games. (Brian LodenThe Vicksburg Post)

[12/26/04]The throngs of people stood arm-to-arm, clamoring the streets of Edwards as the distant thump, thump of a base drum announced the arrival of something special.

The sun shined on downtown that October Saturday afternoon, providing a glorious setting for something this tiny town west of Vicksburg had never seen before.

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One of their own, the son of a preacher, captured the hearts and minds of all Mississippians when he sprinted to an Olympic gold and silver medal.

The same Otis Harris who used to practice on the Hinds AHS football field because there was no track, returned to his home a conquering hero.

He rode on the back seat of a convertible, head on a swivel as fans of every age shouted encouragement, exchanged high-fives and shared plenty of smiles.

Harris’ Olympic achievements marked a golden moment in a year of tremendous sports moments in this area so wealthy in athletic talent. Harris’ story is a dreamer’s tale, of growing up in a small town 1,000 miles from nowhere and ascending the world’s athletic stage.

When he crossed the finish line to win that gold medal, you could almost hear a roar from Edwards, a “Yes” to those who grew up watching him develop.

Of course he wasn’t the only one who made 2004 a year to remember around here. Warren Central pitcher Taylor Tankersley was selected in the first round of the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft by the Florida Marlins.

While Tank was moving forward, another fireballer took Porters Chapel by storm. Freshman Michael Busby had scouts drooling over their radar guns, pumping 90-mile-per-hour fastballs at cringing hitters. Busby, who can also kick a 50-yard field goal and throw a football 75 yards in the air, may go down as the best this area’s ever seen.

We were left speechless on an hot, humid August evening at Vicksburg Memorial Stadium as Warren Central’s Larry Warner ran for 301 yards on 8 carries. The former fourth-stringer rushed for more than 1,800 yards and 18 touchdowns to win his second straight Vicksburg Post Player of the Year honor.

One week after Warner’s 300-yard effort against Southaven, on that same turf, Vicksburg High pulled off its biggest upset in recent memory with an overtime win over Brookhaven. The Panthers ran the table the rest of the way in the ultra-competitive Class 4A to capture the state championship.

Warren Central’s girls and Hinds AHS and Port Gibson’s boys turned the basketball attentions to the Big House in Jackson, ball reaching the state basketball tournament.

This was also a year of sorrow. We said goodbye to Bubba Mims, who spent his life teaching kids the values of sports and making those he coached better for it.

We said goodbye to a man who could have been president someday. Alan Ebersole, a vivacious college sophomore and avid swimmer, drowned in the Atlantic Ocean while on a swimming trip with his Princeton Tiger teammates.

Those same teammates flew from New Jersey to Vicksburg to honor their fallen friend. More than 3,000 attended his wake, further emphasizing the impact a 20-year-old can have in his community.

The sadness eventually turns to something good, something to move forward with.

We’ll move forward to 2005 with hopes and dreams of a new day, with new opportunities.

Happy New Year.