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  • John Macon Gillespie

Column: My 9/11



Everyone has a story about where they were on September 11, 2001. It seems like everyone can remember with great detail where they were when they heard the news or saw the live footage. I remember where I was and what I was doing that day as well as the days to follow. This is my story.

I was a senior in high school at Marshall Academy. I lived in Byhalia and woke up late that morning and had to rush to get dressed and drive the 16 miles down 78 to Holly Springs. I was late because my father, Pete Lewis, who was also the headmaster at Marshall at the time, usually woke me. This particular morning he had already left well before I would need to get up. He had an administrators meeting in Jackson at the MPSA offices (now known as the MAIS).

I got to school on time and then hurried to my first period class. It was one of the semester classes taught by our assistant football coach in a classroom tucked away in the corner of the gym next to the stage. We were the only ones in the there that period. Coach John Holcomb taught the class. He is now the head football coach at Clarksdale Lee. I remember doing a little class work before the subject switched over to our Friday night opponent Greenville Christian.

About 30 minutes into the class, there was a knock on the door.

Coach Holcomb went out into the gym and returned with a very concerned look on his face. I remember him saying that something had happened. He said t there had been an attack in New York. They thought it was a bomb or something. He didn't have many details at the time, no one did.

Suddenly, our lone classroom in the gym felt much more cut off from the rest of the school than normal. When the period finally ended we all headed back to the main building to find teachers and students at a loss for what to do or even what to think about what was happening.

Meanwhile, in Jackson at the MPSA offices my father and other headmasters from around the state gathered around a television and watched the nightmare unfold. The head officials there decided to cancel the meeting so that the administrators could get back to their schools as quickly as possible.

Back at Marshall, we had moved onto second period. Because Marshall was my sixth private school to attend my schedule was pretty different than most of the other seniors. I found myself sitting in a ninth grade computer class gathered around a computer watching websites trying to get more information on what was happening. That is when we found about the planes.

As the day went on, some parents would come and check their kids out to get them home to safety. Not much class was actually taking place. When school finally ended it was time to head to the field house for football practice. My head coach was Tony Banks. He is now the head coach at Central Holmes. Coach Banks tried to conduct business as usual but practice felt numb.

The next day rumors began to fly around school that our Friday night game would be cancelled. Dad assured us that decision had not yet been made. We went about our Wednesday routine as best we could. I remember dad being proud of the way the MPSA was handling everything. They were calling for schools to join together in handling the tragedy. They even sent a memo early that morning that read in part:

Our thoughts and prayers go out to all who have been affected by these horrific acts. This nation has always been characterized by courage and resolve. We hope that by continuing our schedule, we can prove to the perpetrators that we will not succumb to terrorist activity.

We, as citizens of this great country, have a duty to help our fellow Americans. Our association and it’s member schools stand ready to provide whatever assistance possible as we all struggle to get through this difficult time.

David Derrick, Executive Director

Les Triplett, Director of Activities

On Thursday my father, along with every other MPSA schools, received another memo from the MPSA.

IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT INFO REGARDING

POSTPONEMENT OF FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 14th FB

GAMES

PLEASE READ IMMEDIATELY!!!

Due to recent developments, including the cancelation of other athletic events, and particularly President Bush’s declaration that Friday, September 14, 2001 has been declared a Nation Day of Prayer and Remembrance for the victims of the terrorist attacks, the leadership of the MPSA has postponed all games scheduled for Friday, September 14th. All games are to be made up on Saturday, September 15th or at a date that is mutually agreeable to both schools.

I remember sitting in the locker room after our walk through practice not saying much to each other. Dad and Coach Banks came in. Dad said that word had just come down from the MPSA that all Friday night games would be moved to the following Saturday. It was not a huge shock. The SEC had recently announced the cancellation of all of their Saturday games as well.

We treated Friday like Thursday. We went to classes and had our pre game walk through that afternoon.

Saturday morning had a strange feel to it. My original plans were to sleep late and then watch college football all day. Instead, I was up early to eat a good breakfast and then kill several hours around the house before heading to the school for pregame meal. It was odd. I always dreamed about one day getting to play the game I love on Saturday’s but not like this.

We got taped up a little bit earlier than normal because there was to be a small ceremony before kickoff. During pregame warm up I remember being surprised at the size of the crowd both home and away.

We stood near the flagpole behind an end zone and had a moment of prayer and someone sang ‘God Bless the USA’. We stood hand in hand with players and fans from Greenville Christian. It really was an incredible moment. The National Anthem brought tears to nearly everyone in attendance that understood the magnitude of the week’s events. We then parted ways with Greenville Christian and prepared for kickoff.

The home crowd erupted as loud as they ever had as their mighty Patriots stormed the field and lined up for the start of the game. I don’t remember much about the game at all. I don’t even remember if we won or not, but I remember feeling proud. I felt proud of school and my state and of my country. It really was something special. Yes, it was just another high school football game in Mississippi, but it was also so much more.

It was communities, towns and cities all over the great Magnolia state doing their part to say the world and anyone else…”We are still here and we stand together.”


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