By Stan Beall
FRENCH CAMP —
To say they are a little excited is an understatement. The small Choctaw County town of French Camp, population 400, is ecstatic.
The French Camp Academy Panthers will play for the MHSAA Class 1A State Championship against Stringer High School at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson Friday 11 a.m.
“This is the greatest thing for French Camp in a long time,” said Henderson Auto Parts manager Bo Henderson. “We’ve always had good teams, but never any thing to get us over the top. This year’s team finally came through for us and I hope we have a big crowd down at Jackson. I think we are going to pull it off – I think we’re going to win the ball game.”
On Monday, the Panther football team was dressing out for practice alongside their coaches with the 1A championship trophy on their minds.
“It’s a huge honor, and I think of all the coaches that coach their whole lives and never get a chance,” said Panther offensive coordinator Bruce Hosket. “I thought I was going to be one of those coaches who was going to invest heavily and be out there year after year and never get the chance, so I’m grateful to have the opportunity. Obviously it means a lot more having sons (senior linebacker/fullback Ben and junior quarterback/defensive back Jesse) involved. So, it’s been a dream of mine and just being there, I’m grateful.”
Bruce Hosket, a FCA alum, was the head coach of the Panthers from 1986 through the mid-nineties before stepping away to concentrate on other aspects at FCA.
Hosket got back involved with the football team when his two sons became old enough to play in junior high and worked his way up with them.
FCA principal Rusty McKnight, who was the defensive coordinator at French Camp from 1989-93 and head coach from 1994-98 said, “It’s exciting and it’s great for our school and great for our community as well as our kids. We’ve always dreamed of doing it, and for some reason the Lord had blessed us this year to get to do it. It’s fun to see how everybody is excited. We have a chance and we are proud of our guys.
The coaches have worked hard and the guys have worked hard and our community has really gotten behind us.”
The excitement has slipped over into the community and into the local convenience store, Leonard’s 3-Way.
“We are extremely excited to be going to the state championship for the first time, so we are really pumped and ready. I’ve been here all my life and this is just amazing,” Jenni Cockrell Morgan, an FCA second grade teacher at FCA and the daughter of athletics director John Cockrell . “It’s really exciting to see those boys grow up and get to this point. The whole community and even the surrounding areas have really rallied around us.”
Jerry Crowder, grandfather of FCA junior wide receiver/defensive back Hagan Box, is looking forward to the big game.
“It means a lot to the community because they’ve never been to a State Championship, and I’m really excited because I have a grandson playing in it,” Crowder said.
Leonard’s 3-way owner, Minna Leonard couldn’t hide her excitement for the upcoming game.
“I am very, very proud of the Panthers. Awesome job,” she said. My husband Ralph is actually going to miss work for the game. You can count on one hand how many days he’s missed since we’ve been here.”
Senior running back/defensive back Jaylon Clemons understands the importance of the game, and he knows how important it is to the community as well.
“We just have to get better, and like coach said, only the two best teams make it to Jackson, and we want to be the best by coming out with a ‘W’ at the end of the day.” With all the excitement Clemons added, “I actually feel like a celebrity kind of, and I like it.”