By Ruthie Robison The Choctaw Plaindealer
With the 2012 high school football season coming to a close, the heartbreaking possibility of the Friday night lights no longer beaming over Marion Kelley field is felt stronger than ever in the community of Weir.
Due to budget cuts and dwindling attendance at Weir Attendance Center, the Choctaw County School District made the tough decision this past summer to consolidate the county schools.
The Department of Justice made a ruling that followed the decision stating that more information and time was needed before the consolidation could be confirmed. The Department of Justice is expected to make their final ruling early in 2013.
With that in mind, first year Lion head coach Paul Courtney was about to lead the final Weir team.
“I really didn’t think about it too much,” said Courtney. “I knew it was definitely a possibility that this would be my first and last season as the head coach of this school.”
For decades Weir has housed the champion Lions; a Mississippi high school football team with a victorious legacy.
In the last thirty years, the Lions have accumulated six state championships and have traveled to Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson 10 times in those years.
Weir, known statewide for their strong athletic program and winning tradition, has been a state powerhouse in producing professional athletes with at least eight former Lions in the National Football League.
“It’s a great place with great tradition, and I’m very honored to have been the head coach here,” Courtney said. “You can look back through the line of coaches that have come through this place starting with Coach Kelley to Coach Gant, Coach Graham, Coach Woods and Coach Turner. There hasn’t been many (head) coaches in that period of about 40 years so it’s an honor.”
Weir’s tradition was built on the principles of legendary Lion coach, Marion Kelley. The community of Weir showed their gratitude of what Kelley established in the small Choctaw County town by naming the field after him.
“The community has always been supportive of the coaches and players. Football has been very important for the past 30-40 years to this community,” Courtney said. “The success it has had without the community and their support, we wouldn’t have been able to accomplish what we have accomplished.”
Former head coach Joe Gant continued the Lion success with five Class 1A State championships. Gant’s successor, Junior Graham, currently head coach of the Eupora Eagles, extended the Weir winning with an additional state title and three trips to Jackson.
Marion Kelley Field is decorated with all the many achievements of Lion football including the six golden footballs that reside in the Lion field house.
During the summer, the Lion coaching staff was uncertain if they would even have enough for a team since an average of only 10 players came to lift weights.
“The first day of practice we had 18 boys show up, and that was impressive to us as coaches,” Courtney said. “Then we gained a few more here and there.”
Out of the 40 eligible students in a school with an enrollment of 104 students, 22 stepped up to be a part of Weir’s last season. “The kids traditionally that have come through this school have been hard working, blue collar kind of kids. They usually step up to the challenges that are before them, have a good work ethic and generally put forth a lot of effort when those lights come on Friday,” Courtney said. “And this team, we didn’t achieve the accomplishments that we set out to do as far as wins and losses, but the effort that the kids put forth was second to none.”
The final Weir roster, consisting mostly of underclassmen, put forth a strong effort in every game they played. Seniors Tyler Henson, Darius Brown, Willie Miller, TY Martin, Larral Jobe, Bailey Callahan and Willis Cork jumped into team leadership roles throughout the season.
After an emotional goodbye to Marion Kelley field on Oct. 26 in a division matchup with the West Lowndes Panthers, the Lions took the field one last time in Crawford against the East Oktibbeha Titans. The Lions came back to Weir that night triumphant having claimed what could possibly be the final win in Weir’s school history, 21-20.
“It meant a lot to those kids. They wanted to go out and be able to remember their last game as being victorious,” Courtney said. “We preached all week during practice that none of us are guaranteed another game. I think they really bought into that, and gave the best effort they could in that last game. Nobody can ever take that win away from them.”
The 2012 Weir Lions were able to represent and make their community proud on last time.
Although Weir football will be greatly missed, its many achievements will never be forgotten.