Danny Ditta looks out onto the basketball court as the Yellowjackets come out of a timeout. (Kim Murrell/SDN)
Jeremiah Chandler, right, listens to a message from SHS athletic director Stan Miller. (Kim Murrell/SDN)
By DANNY P. SMITH
Around Starkville High School, coaches, athletes and the administration already know about Danny Ditta and Jeremiah Chandler.
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It doesn't take any visitor to the Yellowjacket athletic complex long to also learn of their reputation.
If there's a job to do, Ditta and Chandler are ready and willing to tackle it.
SHS athletic director Stan Miller said the school is fortunate to have them.
"Other schools around the country have young men like we've got, but Danny and Jeremiah are two that have a heart as large as this building," Miller said as he stood in the hallway beside the Starkville High School gymnasium. "They will do anything in the world for you."
Even since Miller's first tenure as the principal at the school 14 years ago until now, Ditta and Chandler were around to present service with a smile.
Their day starts early and ends late.
"They show up at 7 in the morning and are here at 9 or 10 at night and are always asking what can they do for you," Miller said. "They are such an intrigal part of this athletic program that I don't know what we'd do without those two guys."
Ditta has been serving the Jackets in some capacity for nearly 30 years since his graduation from SHS in 1984.
Miller said Ditta began to take more of an active role in the football program when Chuck Friend was the football coach of the Jackets in the 90s.
Ditta was the first name that popped into the minds of Friend's staff when help around the field house was needed.
Mississippi State associate athletic director for compliance Bracky Brett was an assistant for Friend at SHS and remembers when fellow assistant John Patton recommended Ditta for the job.
"John came in and said there's a guy who would be really good to come around, help us and get him involved in the program," Brett said. "He loves Starkville High and his name is Danny Ditta.
"Danny came and started working with us. Not only was Danny a hard worker, but just a blessing to have around. He's a fine guy who loves Starkville High and loved coming to work every day to help us out in the equipment room."
Friend moved on to become the head coach at Neshoba Central, but steps were taken by then-school superintendent Larry Box to make sure there remained a place for Ditta and Chandler through the coaching stints Ronnie Cuevas, Bill Lee and now Jamie Mitchell.
There was no twisting of the arm for Friend to allow Ditta to help and likes the fact the school has seen fit to keep him and Chandler around.
"Coach Patton came to me, said he ran into Danny and his mom and wanted to know if they could help us during the day," Friend said. "I said that I'd love to have him. It went on from there. Jeremiah started while I was there.
"I don't think there's anyone better than Danny Ditta. There's one thing about it, he loves Starkville. He loves the school and is sincere about it. He's very dedicated to that school and they are lucky to have him."
Even though he's only been the head football coach for one year, Mitchell values the relationship he's built with Ditta and Chandler.
Mitchell used the same word as Brett "blessed" to describe how much Ditta and Chandler mean to the Jackets.
"You coach in this business all day everyday and sometimes you forget just how blessed you are," Mitchell said. "It's been a blessing for us to be around these two guys.
"I've said it a million times that if you've had a bad day, all you've got to do is spend three minutes with Jeremiah before you go to work and your day would be a whole lot brighter. I don't guess he's ever had a down moment in his life. Danny is kind of like our second father around here. He keeps a check on everything and he's been here a long time."
A good example of Chandler's and Ditta's work came at the recent National Signing Day ceremony for football at the SHS complex. Coaches, families and friends were present to watch the seven Jackets continue their careers.
After all of the paperwork had been signed, pictures had been taken and people had departed the building, Ditta and Chandler went to work putting everything back in place.
Once they finished, Ditta and Chandler were off to see what else needed attention.
"There are really no words that can say what they mean," SHS assistant football coach Tate Fischer said. "You can think of any group of words that deal with loyalty, dedication and have a true love for what they do and being at work everyday. It's dependability."
It doesn't just stop with football.
When it comes to basketball, Chandler and Ditta hang around the bench area to make sure the needs of the players and coaches are met.
"Both Danny and Jeremiah bring life and what we try to bring to the girls," SHS girls basketball coach Kristi Williams said. "They both have so much love for these players and all of the athletes at Starkville High School. When you need a smile, Danny or Jeremiah will be there to brighten your day. They do everything for everybody, players and coaches.
"Without a doubt, Starkville athletics wouldn't be where it is without Danny and Jeremiah."
Ditta's love for the Lady Jackets began in high school when his primary responsibility was to mop the court at halftime of basketball games.
It was during those days, he developed a friendship with coach Glenn Schmidt.
"Danny was a joy to have around and I couldn't have done without him," said Schmidt, who is now at Starkville Academy. "I can't believe this many years have gone by, but he has got more Yellowjacket and Lady Jacket school spirit than anybody in this community that I know about. He gets the spirit award. When I think of the name Danny Ditta, I just grin from ear to ear. He's just a wonderful fellow."
Ditta and Chandler were along for the ride last year when the SHS boys basketball team won the Class 6A state championship and overall Grand Slam title.
As the Jackets celebrated, Ditta and Chandler were just as proud.
SHS boys basketball coach Greg Carter said Ditta and Chandler deserve credit for what they provide.
"Danny has been with me since I've been here and whenever something needs to be done, Danny gets it done," Carter said. "You don't have to ask him to do it. That's the big thing. He already knows what needs to be done and he just gets it done. He does the scouting reports on the teams we're about to play and he'll bring me their stats. He means a lot to our program.
"(Chandler) gets into (the game) and gets fired up on the sideline. When we're playing well, he's our biggest cheerleader. He jumps right in and goes from football to basketball to baseball to track. He does everything."
Chandler not only supports the Jackets, but he can also been seen at Mississippi State sporting events cheering on the Bulldogs. At Humphrey Coliseum, Chandler blends right in with Rick's Rowdies and doesn't shy away from criticizing officials.
During the spring, Chandler is equipped with his batting helmet to chase down foul balls behind homeplate at SHS baseball games. Ditta is not far behind somewhere, either taking up money for admission or checking in on the personnel in the press box to see if they need anything.
"I don't think we'd have much of an athletic program without them both," Starkville baseball coach Danny Carlisle said. "They love the high school and love the Yellowjackets. They do everything for the kids and it's all about the kids with them two. They are both a vital part of our operation here."
Whether it's dependable Ditta or committed Chandler, Miller hopes the association continues between them and the Jackets.
"It's a win-win situation," Miller said. "We have them, but they have us. I hope they are here for many, many more years. I really do."