When you think college sports, you think rivalry. Ole Miss and Miss. State. Alabama and Auburn. Michigan and Ohio. Rivalries that extend into areas not even related to sports, and Mississippi College has one, too. A rival so big that even wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day is considered treason. Hashtags and buttons that read #bEATtheOkra can be found all over campus and on social media starting a week before game day. So who is our rival?
This rivalry goes back decades. The two schools have competed in almost every major sport starting as early as the 1930s. Before the Choctaws left the Gulf South Conference in 1996, the competition between these two teams was intense, but now back at Division II, Mississippi College students and the Clinton area have been reminded of just how big this rivalry is.
Athletic director, Mike Jones, said that MC alum had one thing on their minds when the Choctaws moved back to Division II, “Beat Delta State.” He said, “They knew how important it was. The renewal of this rivalry is great for athletics, for the state, and for both of these schools.” Convincing students to get involved however, is a different story.
Mississippi College and Delta State have always fought for the Gulf South Conference championship title, and assistant athletic director, David Nichols said it’s always nice to have “bragging rights over your rival team.” He said, “We’re trying to get our student athletes to appreciate the rivalry and get back to what it once was in the 80s and 90s.”
The younger generations don’t remember how intense the rivalry was before the Choctaws left the GSC. Don Lofton, head coach for the men’s basketball team, said that since the Choctaws have moved back to Division II, hopefully the rivalry mindset will come back as well. “I think interest from the fans will grow.” He said it’s healthy for MC athletics to compete in such a rivalry because the athletes and coaches look forward to facing the Statesmen.
For former choctaw football players like Dr. Jim Turcotte, this rivalry is personal. “When I was a student, they were our number one rival. We prepared for them all year.” Like others, Turcotte hopes that students will learn more about the history of the rivalry and invest into it as years go by. He said, “They don’t understand how important it was for us to beat Delta State when we were athletes. We didn’t care if we won another game all year, as long as we beat Delta State.”
This isn’t just a rivalry on the basketball court or the football field though. It’s a battle on the recruitment field, too. Delta State and Mississippi College are the only Division II schools in the state which means they’re constantly fighting for recruits. Coach Lofton said, “In college athletics it comes down to players. Beating Delta State would help us gain back the respect we need in the athletic program.” MC athletes recognize the rivalry as well.
Sophomore, Choctaw women’s basketball player, Kaitlyn Thompson is from Cleveland, Miss and she understands the weight of a game against Delta State. “Coach Duke tells us that every game is important and that this game is no different. You have to have the mindset to play every game your hardest, but this game is a little more personal.” She said that having friends and family from her hometown cheer against her team just makes her work even harder to get a win.
Going into last week’s basketball game against Delta State, seniors like Antonio Johnson really wanted a win. In his four year career at MC, Johnson has only won once against the Statesmen. He said, “To win against them while I’m a starter would mean so much more to me than people understand.” Even freshman Lauran Sheriff understands the importance of a victory over Delta State. She said, “We know they’re tough, they’re quick, and they’re of course our rival team which means we have to beat them.”
In their first meeting of the 2017-18 season, the Choctaw men and women’s basketball teams played a tough game against the Statesmen but were unable to pull away with a win. Since returning to the GSC in 2014, the Lady Choctaws have only won twice against the Lady Statesmen. For the men’s team, the Choctaws have only won once in the last four years.
Although the Choctaws were defeated by the Statesmen last Saturday, both the men and women are looking forward to their next meeting on February 22 where the Choctaws will compete in their final regular season game against Delta State in Cleveland, Miss.
Choctaws vs. Statesmen. It’s a traditional rivalry, but one that is well-respected across the state. A rivalry that began many decades ago, and one that will forever have Choctaw fans cheering, “Beat Delta State!”