Sports column: VHS baseball coach Willis puts a new spin on tryouts

Published 9:00 am Sunday, September 17, 2023

One of the most mundane items of any high school sports offseason is tryout day.

At most schools, it’s a requirement to give everyone who wants to play an opportunity to do so. A few freshmen might get added to the roster, and every so often a hidden gem is unearthed, but for the most part coaches already have an idea who will be on the team and it’s largely a formality.

Kent Willis, however, is trying to make it an event.

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Willis spent 15 years working in the Atlanta Braves organization before returning to the high school ranks. He’s using his contacts to bring some major league scouts to the Gators’ tryouts Sept. 18-20.

Willis admits it’s a bit of a publicity stunt — the majors aren’t exactly looking to sign any freshmen trying to make a high school team, and he and his assistants will still make the final roster decisions — but it is a chance to showcase the program and get people to look at it in a different light.

“When you get this caliber of people coming in who want to support it and see it and be around it, I think people will know Vicksburg is changing its attitude and mindset of what’s coming to Vicksburg and what’s going to be expected,” Willis said.

Willis is also hoping it gets his players thinking differently. Along with their talent evaluations, Willis has asked the scouts to give some guidance to players about their futures. They’ll offer tips on what to work on, both on and off the field, to give them a chance to improve as their high school careers progress.

“The main thing is to give our guys an opportunity to get evaluated and looked at, and give them a pre-evaluation of where they stand right now,” Willis said. “They’ll grade them and give them an opportunity to see moving forward what are the expectations, what they need to do, what they need to be challenged with, trying to get themselves prepared for the next level.”

When it’s all said and done, Willis is hopeful that tryout day will get his players to think and dream bigger than just the 2024 high school season. Having a chance to mingle with professionals who know what it really takes to make dreams a reality should help.

“I’m trying to make a big deal out of it, because it is a big deal. People need to know we’re trying to change the culture, trying to change the attitude and present these kids with the opportunity to see what it’s like to get to the next level,” Willis said. “Then people feel like they’re important. It gets them thinking that they need to challenge themselves to get better because they’ve got an opportunity.”

Willis is also hoping that it’s not just his players who start thinking big about the potential for Vicksburg’s baseball program.

“Hopefully this will help us let people know what we’re doing over here, and get people in the community to support us in terms of fundraising and things of that nature,” he said. “We’re going to need some support, so this will all be an important part of what we’re trying to do over here.”

Vicksburg High’s tryouts are this Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday from 5 to 7 p.m. each day at Showers Field. Players wishing to try out must have their own cleats, gloves and other equipment, as well as a completed physical form.

Players can email Willis at

“This is what you want. Now let’s go to work,” Willis said. “Let’s hit the field and get excited about it. Let’s do whatever it takes to get ready for this upcoming season.”

Ernest Bowker is the sports editor of The Vicksburg Post. He can be reached at

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 reporters in the paper's 140-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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