To say the high school sports scene has changed in Mississippi since I broke into the journalism business as a high school senior in the fall of 1975 would be an understatement.
In the mid-’70s, no one would have thought it possible that schools from the state’s public school system would play schools from the private school association. But as you read this today, they most certainly do. And it’s a good thing.
There was no such thing as a playoff system for high school football in 1975, but there most certainly is now. That also is a good thing.
The number of sports has grown in leaps and bounds — another good thing.
Previously, you had football, basketball, baseball and track with a smattering of golf and tennis, and that was it.
There are many more sports and activities available for students now, including archery, swimming and bowling.
While all of the above you have just read is true and has had a huge impact, there are three sports that really helped drag Mississippi into the future.
The first was soccer.
It first crept into the local sports culture as a youth recreational sport but has grown tremendously. When it was predicted in the ’70s and ’80s that soccer would one day be among the “major” sports in the United States, much less Mississippi, an old-school sports guy like myself could only shake his head.
Little did I know how wonderfully soccer would fit into the sports culture of the future. Now soccer is played everywhere, with facilities in almost every community. It is a very important high school sport and will only grow stronger.
Girls fast-pitch softball is another.
This was a difficult fight for may people, but there were a group of parents, coaches and athletes that kept pushing until a breakthrough was made.
The athleticism, skill and determination it takes to play the sport at a high-level is incredible, and it’s truly an exciting sport to watch.
I’ve been blessed to see the sport grow from its infancy into one that is a very important part of high school athletics in this state as well as at recreational fields in almost every city you visit.
And now there is volleyball, a sport most of us saw as nothing more than something to play with friends at the beach or in your backyard.
It is slowly taking hold in Mississippi, and I unashamedly predict it will be among the most popular of high school sports within the next decade. It’s a fast-paced, exciting game that takes practice and teamwork to play well.
The most important thread that ties soccer, fast-pitch softball and volleyball together is that they have given girls more opportunities to not only compete on a high school level but to also earn scholarships on the collegiate level.
Quite frankly, high school athletics 50 years ago were mostly for boys, but that door has swing wide open, and that’s a great thing.
I can’t wait to see what’s next.
Austin Bishop, AKA The Old Sports Dude, has been covering high school, college, amateur and professional sports since 1975. He is currently pastor of Great Commission Assembly of God in Philadelphia. He may be contacted by email at email@example.com.