Juco tourney comes to Vicksburg|[3/9/06]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 9, 2006

This weekend’s Cliburn Classic baseball tournament is a lot of things to Sam Temple.

It’s a recruiting tool. A homecoming. A chance to erase the bad taste of a 3-9 start. And, most important of all, an opportunity to remember a fallen friend and continue one tradition while starting another.

Temple, in his first season as head coach at Hinds Community College, will bring the Eagles to Vicksburg on Saturday to host the Cliburn Classic at Bazinsky Field. In addition to Hinds, the tournament will include Mississippi Delta Community College, Southwest Community College and Kishwaukee College (Ill.).

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The event is named for Wes Cliburn, a former Hinds player who was killed in a car wreck in 1998, and serves as a fund-raiser for a scholarship fund in his name. The scholarship, started in 1999, goes to a Hinds baseball player.

&#8220I just wanted somebody to have a chance to play ball. That’s what Wes loved to do,” said Wes’ father, Mike, who helped start the scholarship fund along with former Hinds coach Rick Clark. &#8220Coach Clark initially decided that they wanted to do a scholarship in Wes’ name. I probably would have done it anyway. That was my love for him.”

While this is the first time in the tournament’s 8-year history that it has been played away from the Hinds campus in Raymond, Temple said the name would remain. He knew Cliburn from coaching against him in American Legion ball and is a friend of the family. Temple also understood the importance of the name in Hinds’ history.

&#8220It will be called the Wes Cliburn Classic, always,” Temple said. &#8220We just wanted to make sure that that name stayed with the tournament.”

In a few years, the name may be the only recognizable thing about the tournament.

Part of the reason for moving it from Raymond to Vicksburg, Temple said, was to eventually help it grow. This year’s tournament will feature six games spread over two days. Temple hopes to double that within a few years.

&#8220We plan on getting it off the ground this year and making it a little better every year. I’m glad, as a hometown boy, that I’m in a position to bring a college team to Vicksburg,” said Temple, who starred for Porters Chapel Academy in high school and later coached Warren Central to a state championship in 2001. &#8220My big dream with this tournament is, sooner or later, it’s something different organizations can get behind … With some advance planning we could make it a three- or four-day tournament. This is something that could be a gold mine.”

Vicksburg’s city leaders are thinking the same way.

Alderman Sid Beauman has long been a proponent of bringing college baseball games to Vicksburg, and several have been played here in recent years.

In 2003, Mississippi College moved a weekend baseball series to Bazinsky Field when heavy rains made its field in Clinton unplayable. The Choctaws had played there several times before for the same reason.

Other sports have also made their way to the fields of Warren County.

Alcorn State played Louisiana-Monroe in softball at Bazinsky Park earlier this season, and Alcorn’s soccer team has played its home games in Bovina for the last two seasons. In 2003, the city also briefly considered making a bid for the Southwestern Athletic Conference spring tournaments before deciding against it.

Vicksburg’s central location and modern facilities make it an ideal meeting place for schools in Louisiana and Mississippi. While the city has extended invitations to most area colleges to play some of their games here, Parks and Recreation director Joe Graves said several schools have inquired on their own.

&#8220It’s more or less a central location. If Alcorn is playing Louisiana-Monroe in softball, it’s about halfway between both of them,” Graves said. &#8220They more or less are coming to us, which makes it even better.”

Temple was among the coaches eager to showcase his program in Vicksburg. All four of Warren County’s high schools have enjoyed success recently – all but Vicksburg has reached the state finals at least once since 2001 – and Temple considers the area a recruiting hotbed.

He currently has three former Warren Central players on the roster and has several more players from the county either signed or preparing to sign in the near future. Getting people to see Hinds as &#8220their junior college” will only help increase that number, Temple said.

&#8220There’s a lot of reasons why to bring it (the tournament) to Vicksburg, and one is bring Hinds baseball into one of its best venues,” he said.