State of Choctaw County athletics

Staff Writer

A previous stop at Amory High School a few years ago got Ben Ashley prepared to head Choctaw County’s athletic department.

The football coach was looking to branch out any success he had in his own sport in order to build excellence around the entire school. The All Sports Award and finishing at least in the top 10 was the goal every year at Amory and he helped them get there twice during his time.

In his first year with the Chargers, Ashley saw just how much potential there is in Choctaw County. District championships were coming by the bunches with golf, softball, boys track, volleyball, girls and boys basketball and football all bringing home trophies. Baseball followed with a playoff appearance as nearly everyone enjoyed success.

“The biggest thing we had going for us is that we had a really good senior class in every sport," Ashley said. "Because of that, it led to some success. I’m just a big believer that if you get it started, there’s momentum built. Football and volleyball did so well that it kind of kickstarted us.”

Football was a big reason that the momentum began. Ashley’s team started the year 3-2 and went into a bye week with a loss to rival Eupora. As the Class 3A, Region 4 schedule began, the Chargers flipped a switch.

Choctaw County beat Houston 13-12 and it was off and running. The Chargers obliterated the rest of their schedule on the way to seven-straight wins and within a game of the Class 3A North State championship before losing to North Panola.  

“I walked into a situation where I felt like there was a great group of kids there," Ashley said. "They just needed something good to happen to them. I just knew that if we could beat Houston in that first division game, I would see a totally different football team. We were able to do that, and it gave us a shot of confident.”

The division championship was something that was always attainable in the players’ eyes and in their coaches’, but after back-to-back losing seasons before Ashley’s arrival, it wasn’t expected. Now that it’s been done, the challenge that Ashley has put forth is to sustain it.

“Last year the challenge wasn’t getting the kids to do what I wanted them to because they were hungry for success," Ashley said. "They bought into that. This year the challenge is to take this to the next level. If we ever stop being what we are, we’re going to be in trouble.”

That is something that Ashley said pertains to the entire landscape of athletics. From boys and girls basketball to softball and volleyball, teams now have a target on the backs of Choctaw County.

That goal of finishing in the All-Sports top 10 came true for Ashley as the Chargers finished fifth in the state in Class 3A and they’re hoping to improve on that now. They’ll do so with many new faces in several sports and new coaches on the sidelines in girls basketball and softball as Mandy Jewell and Lauren Fancher were promoted respectively.

“Lauren and Mandy were here and they were quality people who were an integral part of our programs,” Ashley said of the new head coaches. "When you have those people on staff that already have relationships with our kids and are capable, that’s big. It will be interesting to see the stamp that they’re going to put on the program and both are excited. I’m looking forward to seeing our girls basketball and softball team play.”

With winning comes more pressure to grow and Ashley is hoping that will be the case with the facilities across the school. It begins with his vision to build a brand new football stadium which has been a topic of conversation in Ackerman for several years.

With the football stadium, Ashley is hoping for a track that allows the school to host state or district events. He’s also hopeful for new baseball and softball fields in the future that allows the programs to be among the best in the state. Ashley believes that all the other ingredients are there for the school to be one of the most desirable locations anywhere in Mississippi.

“There’s no reason why we can’t compete year in and year out in every sport,” Ashley said. “We have a great nucleus of kids. Our facilities aren’t great, but we’re going to try and improve those. Our administration supports us and this community is special. We have a lot of things going for us.”