Sports column: Some favorite stories from 2023

Published 10:55 am Sunday, December 31, 2023

This weekend we’re turning the page from 2023 to 2024, cracking open the fresh Coke can of a new year while slurping down the last drops of the old before crumpling it up and throwing it into the recycling bin of history.

In compiling the Year in Review story for this edition’s sports section, it occurred to me that there were some things that didn’t make the cut when it all got pared down to a manageable length. I figured I’d send 2023 out on a good note by sharing some of my favorites.

These aren’t necessarily the biggest or most important stories of the year. These are just a few that were fun to do, or that made me smile:

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• Nick Anderson and Ben Brown — Two Warren County football alumni, and two outstanding young men, both got their chance to play in the NFL.

Anderson, a Vicksburg High and Tulane alum, signed with the New Orleans Saints as an undrafted free agent. He played in several preseason games before being cut at the end of training camp.

Brown, a St. Aloysius and Ole Miss alum, was released by the Cincinnati Bengals, then signed with the Seattle Seahawks. He made his NFL debut in a 37-27 win against the Carolina Panthers on Sept. 24 by playing 15 snaps as a backup offensive lineman. He was later released in November.

Both players had a brief moment at the top of their professions that no one can ever take away from them. After following their careers from a young age, it was wonderful to see them achieve that dream.

• Warren Central’s gym poles — Warren Central cut the ribbon on its renovated gym in October, and the five support beams in front of the visitor’s stands immediately became the defining feature.

The obvious hazard of the pillars became an immediate concern, and the annoyance of them blocking spectators’ view of the action has been a common talking point during the first half of basketball season.

I’m a sucker for unique features in gyms and stadiums, so seeing one come to life in our own backyard made me smile. The practical problems of working around them, not so much.

• Pro wrestling — Bayou Independent Wrestling, a Monroe, Louisiana-based promotion, held three shows at the Ardis T. Williams City Auditorium in 2023. Besides being a wrestling fan, I enjoyed this because it was something unique and fun to cover. Adding a sprinkle of that to the sports section once in a while is always good.

BIW will be back in Vicksburg on March 16.

• P.J. Mims goes viral — This wasn’t necessarily a “fun” story, but it was an oddity. Mississippi Valley State baseball player and Warren Central alum P.J. Mims went viral after he was called out to end a 7-3 loss to New Orleans in March.

Two strike calls on balls clearly out of the zone by umpire Reggie Drummer ended the game. Drummer was suspended by the Southland Conference afterward.

By most accounts, Drummer was frustrated by a series of events during the game and Mims happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Still, having a Vicksburg athlete randomly involved in a situation that became national news was an interesting scenario.

• Porter’s Chapel’s ripped jerseys — I always enjoy seeing unusual sports things, and Porter’s Chapel Academy’s 44-42 football win over Sharkey-Issaquena Academy on Oct. 6 certainly qualified — not because of any stat or the result, but because PCA kept having its jerseys ripped off its body.

Running backs Jase Jung and Ty Mack had three jerseys ripped to shreds by SIA defenders trying to make tackles. I’ve seen torn jerseys. I’ve never seen three in one game, including an original and a replacement worn by the same player. It was so odd, it was hard to do anything but be amazed.

PCA’s players even had fun with it. After Jung’s first jersey was torn, he quickly grabbed the No. 5 of Lakelan Pecanty off the back of his eighth-grade teammate. Pecanty switched to No. 41 and wore Jung’s original No. 3 like a suit coat while standing on the sideline.

• Sharkey-Issaquena Academy’s championship — One of the most incredible stories of 2023 ended with one of the most incredible football games I’ve ever seen.

Sharkey-Issaquena endured a horrific tragedy when Rolling Fork was hit by an EF-4 tornado on March 24. Its students assisted in rescue and relief efforts not only that night, but throughout the summer.

When its football team returned to the field in August, it went on a tear. The loss to PCA in October was its only one of the season. The Confederates finished 12-1, capped by a 32-26 win over Calhoun Academy in the MAIS Class 1A championship game.

In that game, SIA overcame a 20-0 halftime deficit by scoring five touchdowns on nine snaps in the second half. The last was a 35-yard touchdown run by Gary Jackson on the final play of the game.

After witnessing the devastation in Rolling Fork in March, and then seeing the town share a moment of joy and triumph together, it was hard not to get a case of “the feels” as they say. It was a reminder of what sports can bring us, and why we love it so much — and a great memory to end the year on.

Ernest Bowker is the sports editor of The Vicksburg Post. He can be reached at ernest.bowker@vicksburgpost.com

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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