Chamberlain-Hunt bringing back football after 9 years

Published 11:28 am Friday, June 8, 2012

Nine years after dropping its program, Chamberlain-Hunt Academy is getting back in the football game.

The Port Gibson school is resuscitating its football program in response to student demand and as an attempt to retain some of the boarding students who make up its student body, athletic director Daniel Slayton said.

“We want to add more activities for the students and increase our enrollment,” Slayton said. “One of the things a lot of students have said is that they’d like to play football. Some have left and gone home because they wanted to play.”

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Chamberlain-Hunt, which is a member of the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools, will play a limited schedule in 2012. The four-game slate will begin Aug. 24 against Madison-Ridgeland Academy’s junior varsity team. Other games are against Winona Christian, the Mississippi School for the Deaf and Tensas Academy.

The games against MSD and Tensas will follow 8-man rules. Slayton said the team will play a full 11-man schedule in 2013.

The team will be coached by Joshua Lutch, who has been with Chamberlain-Hunt since 2007. The 23-year-old has coached junior varsity basketball at CHA and football at Jefferson County Middle School, but this will be his first varsity football coaching experience.

Lutch said the limited schedule this fall will help CHA’s program ease back into things before going full-bore into the 2013 season.

“With four games scheduled, it’s a plus for us to see how the games are organized and how things are going to be,” Lutch said. “It’ll let us see where things are and how it’s going to be for next year.”

Chamberlain-Hunt has a long, rich football tradition that dates back to the 19th century. The school was founded in 1879, moved to its current campus in 1900 and played its first football game in 1892.

In the early days, CHA scheduled games against college teams like Ole Miss and other boarding schools around the South. In the early 1900s, it was a regular opponent of such Big 8 Conference teams as Carr Central. In the middle part of the 20th century, prior to joining the MAIS, Chamberlain-Hunt played St. Aloysius in most seasons.

From 1992-2000, coach Lum Wright posted eight straight winning seasons at CHA in the last stop of a career that was capped by induction to the National Federation of High Schools Hall of Fame.

In the spring of 2004, however, the plug was pulled. Citing a “changing mission” that included indoctrinating students into the military boarding school routine, the administration decided to drop the football program and all other fall sports.

Chamberlain-Hunt has continued to participate in basketball, track, cross country and other sports and enjoyed great success. The boys basketball team reached the Class AA championship game in 2009. The boys cross country team won the 2011 Class A championship.

Football, however, languished in the shadows. Slayton, who graduated from CHA in 2000 and played football there, said it was a goal to resurrect the program since he became involved in the athletic department in 2006.

He continued his push after becoming athletic director in 2008, and earlier this year he said the school’s board of directors approved football’s return.

“They actually caught me a little flat-footed when they said they wanted to play this year. My goal was 2013,” Slayton said.

Neither Slayton nor Lutch has any illusions for a winning return this season. The program has been away for so long that it’s essentially a start-up operation. Lutch estimated that three-fourths of his players have never played organized football.

The ones who have played don’t tend to stick around long. Slayton said some boarding students have spent four or five years at CHA before graduating, but most stay about two years.

In the two seasons before the program was disbanded, 2002 and 2003, Chamberlain-Hunt lost 20 consecutive games.

“We have a lot of challenges ahead,” Lutch said.

Lutch is hitting the ground running. About 20 players are on campus for summer school this month and are participating in a conditioning program. There are some 7-on-7 workouts planned, in addition to classroom instruction, weightlifting and on-field drills.

Lutch hopes to have a 35-man roster when preseason practice begins in early August.

“I have a whole summer program laid out,” Lutch said. “This whole summer is going to be football, so that they’re ready in August.”

Slayton was hopeful people in Port Gibson will be ready to embrace the team’s return, as well.

When Chamberlain-Hunt dropped football in 2004 — following a contentious period with previous administrations — many locals cut ties with the school. The number of day students dropped dramatically as they transferred to schools in Vicksburg or Natchez.

Slayton, who coaches CHA’s basketball team, said he has seen strong support for that program in recent years. He’s hopeful the football revival will mend some fences and get the community invested in the school once again.

“It’s kind of a way to reach back into the community and get them involved in Chamberlain-Hunt. It’s a way to bring the alumni back and get them to come out for football games on Friday night,” Slayton said. “That’s what we want, because that’s the way we’re going to keep growing.”