Fans and supporters will flock to Meridian High School's Ray stadium Friday night to cheer on their beloved Wildcats’ in the 2014 season-opener against Northwest Rankin High School.

Yet spectators will also be privileged to a blast from the past as the 1966-1969 Wildcat football teams will be honored for their accomplishments, which include back-to-back Big 8 championships in 1966 and 1967 and a North State championship in 1968.

"Winning the Big 8 championship back then was probably more difficult than winning a state championship nowadays," said current Lamar coach Mac Barnes, who served as a backup quarterback on those championship squads. "You didn't have your suburbs back then. Football was centered around the big cities at that time.”

Many of the stars and coaches from those squads will be in attendance as they will be celebrated for their outstanding accomplishments on the field.

The expected attendees include former Tennessee player Wally Hudnall and former Mississippi State defensive lineman Robert Bell — who was the first African-American play football at MSU — among many others.

The 1966 team finished the year 10-0 and was coached by Bob Tyler, who in 1968 accepted an assistant position under Johnny Vaught at Ole Miss. Three years later, Tyler would become an assistant at Alabama under Bear Bryant. Tyler eventually would go on to become the head coach at Mississippi State in 1973.

"We had some very good athletes over the years," said Morris Stamm, a former Meridian defensive back who graduated in 1968. "Meridian really had some of the better athletes in the state at that time."

Tyler would lead the 1967 team to another undefeated season and winning the Big 8 championship. But the Wildcats were held to a 14-14 tie against Columbus High School earlier in the year to keep Meridian from consecutive perfect seasons.

"We felt like we were really the losers in that game," Stamm said. "Columbus cheered and was very happy about it, but we weren't."

That winning mindset was put on full display at practice on a daily basis.

"You were practicing against some of the toughest guys the state has to offer," Stamm said.

The winning mindset proved all the more impressive considering the times as Meridian High was in the midst in the early stages of integration.  

"That went as smoothly as it could possibly be," Stamm said of integration. "It was not a distraction to us; we still won championships. And it's due in my opinion to the excellent coaching and leadership we had."

Yet the difficult times didn’t stop the players from developing fond memories of their time spent at Meridian High.  

"Everybody that plays high school football, you take a lot of memories from those years," Barnes said. "There's a lot of good friends and a lot of good times from those years."

After accomplishing what they could on the field, several members of the squad managed to go on to make successful careers for themselves beyond the gridiron.

"We weren't just dumb jocks," Stamm said. "Those teams had doctors, pharmacists, lawyers, a U.S. Congressmen and college professors at Purdue and Northwestern State. We had some very intelligent guys on those teams."

Yet make no mistake, it is what the Wildcats accomplished between the lines that ultimately brought great pride to the area.  

"In our day, we brought honor to Meridian High," Stamm said. "And I think that tradition continues to this day with what (current Meridian High coach) Larry Weems has been able to accomplish."

Friday night will serve as an opportunity to commemorate a band of special players who managed great achievements, bringing great excitement to the area.  

"It's an honor to have players and coaches come back," Stamm said. "This is who I grew up with and who I looked up to. We had a lot of fun. It was tough, but it was a great time."

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