Vicksburg will celebrate Houston Markham Jr. day Friday

Published 9:19 am Monday, June 26, 2017

On Friday afternoon, Vicksburg will recognize one of its high school football legends by celebrating Houston Markham Jr. Day with a parade and ceremony at the stadium where he made his name famous.

The guest of honor, however, wants no part of that.

“I ain’t coming to be celebrated. This is what we call an old time, big meeting where everybody brings their best dish and loves each other,” said Markham, who coached at Temple High School, North Vicksburg and Vicksburg High from 1965-75 before embarking on a successful college football coaching career. “I ain’t making no speech. I just want to thank y’all for what you’ve done for us. They let me play ball all my life.”

The Houston Markham Jr. Day celebration will begin with a parade on a route running from Ameristar Casino Hotel, down Washington Street to Confederate Avenue and Mission 66, and winding up at Vicksburg Junior High. VJHS and its stadium is the site of the old Rosa A. Temple High School, where Markham coached for five years in the 1960s.

Vicksburg High School’s pep band, cheerleaders and Gator Girls will perform, and a ceremony will follow at the VJHS football stadium. The parade will begin at 3:45 p.m., and the other festivities at 4:30.

Markham was born in Brookhaven and played football at Alcorn State, but came to Vicksburg in 1966 as an assistant coach at Temple High School. He took over as the head coach the following year and became one of the most successful coaches in Warren County history. Markham won three consecutive Negro Big 8 championships at Temple before it closed in 1971, guided North Vicksburg for two seasons during the brief integration period, and then led the combined Vicksburg High School to the Big 8 championship in 1973 in its first year of existence.

Before the Mississippi High School Activities Association adopted its playoff system in 1981, the Big 8 championship was the equivalent of winning the current Class 5A or 6A title. After losing his first two games as Temple’s head coach in 1967, he didn’t lose again at the school. The Buccaneers’ victory over St. Augustine in the 1970 Red Carpet Bowl capped a 39-game unbeaten streak in their final football game. Temple won 37 times and tied twice after those two losses.

“We lost the first couple of games and (principal Jim Stirgus Sr.) said we’re going to have to get rid of you if you don’t shape up. We won the next 40,” Markham recalled with a laugh.

Markham compiled a record of 63-16-3 during his decade at the helm of Vicksburg’s high school programs. His win total is tied for sixth all-time among the county’s coaches, and his .783 winning percentage ranks third among those who coached at least 50 games.

Alonzo Stevens, who played for Markham at Temple and later served as Vicksburg High’s coach for 11 seasons, said Markham was a mentor whose influence went well beyond wins and losses.

Temple was famous for its outstanding sports teams, but had an equal reputation as an academic powerhouse that produced some of the city’s future leaders and leading citizens. Stevens said the leadership of Markham, as well as the school’s other coaches, teachers and administrators, played a major role in that.

“His knowledge of the game was great, but it was his delivery. He was one of those coaches that could motivate you to run through walls,” Stevens said. “We’re growing to be old men, and we wanted to honor him for all the things he did for us and to make us productive citizens.”

Markham said he viewed it as his life’s mission to teach his players more than the X’s and O’s.

“When I was a young man, I went back home for the summer and saw some people working to tear down a building. It hit me that you can tear down in a few hours what it took an architect 15 years to build,” Markham said. “That’s what guided me in life. Did I want to be a man who tears down buildings, or a man who builds them up and you’re glad you passed by him every day? I wanted to make an impact.”

Markham left Warren County in 1975 to embark on a successful college coaching career. He spent 12 seasons as an assistant coach at Jackson State, helping the Tigers win three consecutive Southwestern Athletic Conference championships, and then was hired as the head coach at Alabama State in 1987.

At Alabama State, Markham compiled a 68-39-5 record in 11 seasons. His 1991 team went 14-0, won the SWAC and Black College Football National championships, and is regarded as the best team in school history. His 68 wins are the most by any Alabama State coach, and the school’s football office and training complex bears his name.

Markham, now 75 years old, still lives in Montgomery, Alabama, but his roots and heart will always be in Vicksburg. Even if he’s not too crazy about all the hoopla surrounding this visit, he said he is humbled and grateful that people thought enough of him to honor him that way.

“It’s a joy to think about it, because Vicksburg has meant so much to me. I met my family there,” he said. “Coaching was like playing softball. It’s like I ain’t worked a day in my life. I love all the people in Vicksburg for accepting an old boy from Brookhaven, Mississippi.”

Markham also urged people to come out for the party, if not the speeches.

“I think it’s going to be a great day. It’s a big meeting. If anyone has anything better to do than this, I envy them,” he said with a laugh.

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured sports reporters in the paper's 137-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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