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'Laying down dreams to walk on:' Former players travel hundreds of miles to reminisce with Coach Buster Davis

It’s been more than 50 years since Buster Davis stood courtside at Belmont High School, coaching the four gentlemen lounging in the living room of his Fulton home, last week.

James Wiggington, who made an 11-hour trek from Brookeville, Illinois, for this visit, said he was there to solve a mystery.

“The reason I came was to find out what Coach does to keep his memory so keen,” Wiggington said. “He can remember every game that was lost and whose fault it was.”

Davis and the former teammates got a chuckle out of that.

Wiggington stands tall, which no doubt suited him well playing center and forward for Davis in the early 1960s. He admits he could dish out a bit of attitude as a young man but said his former coach wouldn’t take anything off of him.

“He left a lasting impression on me, not just as a coach, but as a human being,” Wiggington said. “I have a lot of respect for him not only for the way he coached us, but also for the way he treated us.”

It was those life lessons the former Vietnam vet and purple heart recipient would not soon forget.

Davis led the Belmont Cardinals from 1960-62. The former team members were especially proud when they won games and bragging rights over teams such as Tupelo, Ocean Springs and Starkville.

Glenn Harrison played point guard for the team all three years.

“Coach always told us we were going first class, and we did,” Harrison said. “He fed us well before every game.”

He and the others recalled the night Coach ordered the entire team filet mignon. They joked it was the first time they had ever eaten anything wrapped in bacon.

Harrison went on to coach the Belmont Cardinals after playing under Davis’s leadership. He has a combined 38-year total both playing and coaching for the Cardinals. He credits his time under Davis as giving him a foundation on which to build a successful coaching career.

“He taught us so much. I was very fortunate to be under his leadership,” he said.

Jerry Fancher was in the 11th grade when Davis approached him after football season and asked if he’d considered playing basketball. He had never played and didn’t know much about the game.

“The first day Coach watched me, he said ‘Come over here, and I’ll show you how to shoot,’” he said.

Teaching him the finer techniques of shooting the ball was just one of many memories Fancher has of his former mentor and coach. He recalled Davis was the same every day and an all around great guy, a man who led their team to countless successes. He admires Davis’s own personal success as well.

“I always said Bud and Buster Davis could parachute out of an airplane on to a concrete pasture and be eating grass by dark,” Fancher chided.

Tales of bitter losses and hard fought wins spilled out into the Davis’ living room during the visit, but one stood above the rest. It was the summation of what all four of the former players recalled about their former coach and friend.

Jerry McAnally talked about the lasting impact a post-game photo had on his life. It was his junior year and in his words, he was number 10 on the depth chart when it came to playing in a game.

“I was a sub and we had just won the Tupelo tournament which was a big deal,” Fancher said. “The Daily Journal photographer approached Coach after the game and asked to take a picture of him and the five starters. Coach told him he’d take the picture with all ten players or none at all.”

All 10 players were in the photograph. McAnally has never forgotten the gesture.

“The team as a whole was important to him. That let me know why he was so successful,” he said. “Here I was number 10, and he treated me as if I was number one.”

Davis said mutual respect between him and his players was key to the team’s success.

“I earned their respect early on,” he said. “I used to tell them ‘Now boys you can talk all you want, but when I come in the room, stop talking.’ I was teaching them respect and, in turn, I showed them respect. It was different back then. It’s that kind of respect that’s missing today.”

After his days coaching at Belmont, Davis moved on to lead a team in Alcorn County. He recalled they had won 12 of their last 15 games, but their next opponent was a tough, experienced team and worthy of concern. He pondered how he would lead his team to a win when he opened a book on his desk to find the words of poet W.B. Yeats scribbled on a piece of paper tucked between the pages. It was the last few lines of “The Cloths of Heaven” that resonated with him.

Davis recited the words as best as he could remember them:

“I lay down my dreams for you to walk on, tread softly because you walk on my dreams,” he said. “I told the boys to put everything to that point behind them, to lay all their dreams down.”

The young Kossuth players defeated their worthy opponent and won the Grand Slam.

Davis’ coaching style followed him to Itawamba Junior College (now ICC) where the team would win several titles. The Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC) North half titles in 1969, 1970, 1973 and 1975 are at the top of the list. The team was the state runner-up in 1975.

“When I was coaching, I always told the players life doesn’t guarantee you anything,” Davis said. “It’s up to you.”

County leaders add $260,000 to sheriff’s budget

Itawamba County leaders have added more than a quarter of a million dollars to the sheriff’s budget to help fund his department through the end of the year.

Last week, the Itawamba County Board of Supervisors voted to amend the sheriff’s department’s budget by an additional $260,000. The amount should carry the department through the end of the year without needing further adjustment, barring any major unforeseen expenses.

Speaking of which, unforeseen expenses are the primary cause of the department’s excessive spending. These include a 32-hour standoff in December and a multi-day capital murder trial in May.

“You name it, this particular year, he’s had it,” county administrator Gary Franks said of the sheriff.

Itawamba County Sheriff Chris Dickinson said the standoff in particular came with a heavy price tag. The Golden-area standoff required his full department to work nonstop throughout.

“This was a 32-hour deal. That’s a week worth of salaries,” the sheriff said.

The county jail has been another drain on the sheriff’s coffers. In June, the county board voted to amend the jail’s budget – technically separate from the sheriff’s department, but under the sheriff’s purview – by an additional $325,000 to cover expenses through the end of the year. The primary culprit is overcrowding, which has forced the sheriff to house an overflow of prisoners in the Tishomingo County Jail at a cost of around $20,000 a month. The jail was initially budgeted around $5,000 per month for this expense.

“I’ve had to find myself some kind of peace with the jail,” Dickinson said. “We’re not happy about it, but it is what it is.”

The construction of the county’s long-planned 100-bed jail should alleviate the issues with overcrowding, but has no set completion date. Board president Eric “Tiny” Hughes said they hope to have the jail in the process of being built by some time next year.

County officials said even running at the bare minimum – utilities, salaries, fuel, etc. – there would be no way for the sheriff to make his budget without additional funds. The only other option would be to cut jobs.

With the exception of the sheriff’s department’s budget, the county looks to be in decent financial shape heading toward the end of the fiscal year. The county’s assessed value is expected to be up by an additional half-million dollars this year.

Despite the increased assessed value, which means each mill of tax has more value and brings in more money, taxpayers are unlikely to see a tax decrease during the next fiscal year. County leaders said the extra money will be needed to fund the construction of the new jail.

Franks also told supervisors the county currently has $400,000 less in the bank this year than they did at the same time last year, despite similar revenue.

“You know what that means,” Franks said. “Expenses are going up. We’ve got to watch that.”

breaking urgent
Public Service Commission launches investigation into Northeast Itawamba Water Association

Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley has launched an investigation into Northeast Itawamba Water Association following a report of system overcapacity from the Mississippi Department of Health.

Presley’s office made the announcement early last week.

According to the docket filed by Presley’s office with the statewide Public Service Commission (PSC), Northeast Itawamba Water Association is serving roughly 1,500 customers via two systems – Ridge and Salem. The Salem System is now operating at 104% design capacity. Because of the system overload, the Mississippi Department of Health’s Bureau of Public Water Supply has placed a moratorium on the system, prohibiting the water district from connecting new customers to it.

According to a report on an inspection of the local water district’s drinking water supply conducted by the Mississippi Department of Health (MDH), “[n]o new customers shall be added and no new subdivisions or line extensions will be approved until the system has adequate capacity to serve them.”

The MDH inspection took place on June 6, 2018.

“This has been going on for eight years,” Presley told The Times. “It is my understanding that hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent during that time on engineering plans and studies and no action has been taken to solve the problem.”

The public service commissioner’s investigation will look into specifics concerning what the docket describes as the association’s “unwillingness or inability to serve prospective customers on the Salem System.”

Presley said the water association has a long waiting list of would-be customers.

“We are asking Northeast Itawamba Water Association to submit a short-term solution for immediate action within 45 days of receiving our notification,” Presley said. “Once that is in place, they have 180 days to have a long-term plan submitted. If they do not comply, the association will go into receivership.”

If the issue is not resolved and Northeast Itawamba is unable to reach MSDH capacity compliance, they are to inform the PSC as to why it was unable to correct their capacity issues, what steps are being taken to reach MSDH compliance, and provide the PSC with a time line for achieving said capacity compliance.

Presley’s office may also initiate receivership proceedings if it determines the local water association is unwilling to adequately service its customers. In that case, a court-appointed would run the association until the issue is resolved.

Presley said a preliminary meeting with Northeast Itawamba Water Association board member Andy Graham and operator Reed Adams, Monday, were productive. He said he’s been pleased with the water association’s cooperation with his office.

“We want them to work with us and get this resolved quickly,” Presley said. “It’s a shame and disgrace this association has no ability to add a customer or business.”

breaking urgent
One dead following Kirkville area shooting

Itawamba County law enforcement agents have charged a Marietta man with murder following a July 2 shooting death in the Kirkville community.

Jason Culver, 37, of 1521 Dickerson Road, Marietta, was taken into custody Tuesday but not officially charged with the fatal shooting of Michael George of Kirkville until Wednesday morning.

Culver received his initial court appearance on July 3. Itawamba County Justice Court Judge Harold Holcomb set his bond at $500,000. As of late Monday afternoon, Culver was still being held in the Itawamba County Jail.

According to Dickinson, Culver was charged after investigators spoke with two eyewitnesses of the shooting at 247 Fidgett Road. The shooting occurred outside the house around 1:50 p.m. George was shot multiple times with a 9mm handgun.

Culver, whose name wasn’t initially released, claimed the shooting was in self defense. The sheriff said speaking to the two witnesses and further investigation of the scene of the shooting lead investigators to believe otherwise.