By: Jim Steele
Having prowled my share of sidelines and baselines lo these last 41 seasons, I've been lucky enough to see some crazy finishes, memorable moments and milestone victories.
I have been fortunate enough to cover 11 state champions, and handful of national champs, all-staters. Mr./Miss. Basketballs, Mr. Footballs too numerous to name. I've even covered to state baseball players of the year (Drew Hayes of McKenzie and John Parker of Dresden).
The athletes I've seen grow up from middle schoolers to become professional players is a well-populated list as well.
I've been there for numerous record-breaking performances, passing marks, rushing marks, scoring plateaus, pitching and hitting milestones.
Of the milestone victories, I was there when Pat Summit collected No. 500 at Oman Arena in Jackson after blowing out Ohio State in the season opener. I recall then-Dyersburg football coach James Counce Sr. earning his 100th victory at Brownsville. He parlayed his success at DHS into big fortune when he returned for a second stint at Henry County, winning two state football titles and more than doubling his career total from that night at Haywood Co.
I remember being at Hollow Rock-Bruceton when McKenzie basketball coach Larry Joe Smith picked up his 300th win. I also was around for McKenzie football coach Wade Comer's 100th victory.
Last Friday night, I was watched the odometer click over once again for Comer. The Rebel mentor, whose team had faced much adversity and injury, finally had a cohesive unit back. His group took down what was perceived to be a state contender in Trenton-Peabody 22-20.
For Comer, it was victory No. 150.
Before Comer was elevated to the top post, McKenzie's football team had sprinkles of success here and there. There was that team in 1953 that went 7-3. The 1963 team was 5-3 and beat Huntingdon at Pudor Field during the Mustangs' homecoming. There was that run in the early 1980s, where McKenzie got to the quarterfinals in 1980 and made the playoffs again in 1981. There was that team in 1985 that spent much of the season state ranked.
McKenzie has had good teams here and there, but really hadn't sustained program success, where the team was revered year after year after year.
That all changed in 2000 when Comer took over and changed the culture. Since his inaugural season, the Rebels have been to the playoffs 14 times, semifinalist five teams, state runner-up once and produced 21 all-staters, three Mr. Football finalists and one Mr. Football winner. During that time, he has defeated the archrival Huntingdon Mustangs seven times. No other coach comes close to touching that achievement. Four of his former players are earning a living in the coaching profession.
Friday night, Comer's team eclipsed the 150-win mark and defeated the Golden Tide in memorable fashion, engineering an eight-play, 67-yard drive that resulted in the go-ahead TD with :34 to play in the game.
McKenzie took a chance by elevating a young coordinator to head coach 17 years ago. As a result, the team has had tremendous success, memorable ballgames and even a new stadium. Rolling the dice on Comer turned out to be a winner...150 times over.
Jim Steele is a correspondent for Magic Valley Publishing and host of The Pressbox, which airs 4-6 p.m. CT Monday-Thursday on 95.9 WRJB FM.