On Tuesday, Nov. 19, friends of MC reunited in Anderson Hall to observe the Dr. Don Phillips Mississippi College Athletics Dinner. This evening of feasting, fundraising, and fellowship has been held annually since 2002, and is one of the major fundraising events for MC’s athletics department, raising over $2 million over the past 17 years.
As guests in suits and evening dresses reached the top of the stairs the Heritage Bell trophy, secured from Delta State University at Saturday’s game for the first time since 1993, greeted them. Tables bearing memorabilia signed by such sports greats as Drew Brees, D. K. Metcalf, and others, lined the hallway before the doorways to the dining room. These were a part of the silent auction, and many placed their signatures down for a chance at the collectibles.
Inside Anderson’s grand dining room was a sea of white tablecloths, among which the guests mixed and mingled to the tune of “My Girl” from the No Strings jazz quartet in the corner. Members of the football team filled the ranks as servers. From my seat in the back corner, I could see that almost every table in the large hall was filled to capacity, all anxious to hear from headline speaker and College Football Hall of Fame coach Lou Holtz.
Student athletes Jake Russell and Brookelyn Box shared their testimonies and MC stories as the delicious steak dinner wrapped up. Both had their faith transformed when they came to MC and got involved in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). Russell, a member of the cross country and track and field teams, said, reflecting on his career so far, “This place has taught me God does not love me for what I’ve done but for who I am.” Box, a member of the cheer team, echoed Russell when she said, “FCA has reminded me that we serve a God who walks with us. God has been so faithful to this campus and to me.”
Next up was a live auction of hunting trips, ticket packages for New Orleans Saints games, and vacations to Rosemary Beach and Cancun. The auctioneer rattled off bids like a Gatling gun. When the firing ultimately ceased, the auction netted $9,500.
And at last, the main event took the stage. Lou Holtz, who has been lauded as one of the greatest football coaches of all time, began his speech by congratulating the Choctaws on their recent athletic successes, saying MC is “a very special place.” His speech was filled with words of wisdom and wit, a life truth following a brilliant joke. He recalled being born in the middle of the Great Depression in Ohio, but despite his family’s poverty grew up with a silver spoon in his mouth—being born in America and being taught that if he made good choices and lived right, he could be anything he wanted.
That philosophy developed into a three-rule policy for living and playing football: do what is right, do everything to the best of your ability, and show people you care. That policy, combined with a faith in God and a brilliance for coaching, was what carried Holtz and the teams he led to greatness. “I don’t understand how anybody could go through life without a faith in God,” said Holtz. Coach Holtz reminded the enraptured audience that “the most important choice you make every day is your choice of attitude,” and “if you want something bad enough, you’ll find a way to get it.” I could have listened to him all night.
After the passing of an hour that felt like mere minutes, it was time to reveal the fundraising efforts of the night. Mike Jones, who serves as director of athletics, took the stage with a large check for $175,000—from that night alone. Added to the final count was $23,000 raised prior to the evening, and a last minute check for $10,000 from the Lou Holtz Foundation.
When all was said and done, the evening’s grand total amounted to $208,000 – the third time in the dinner’s 17-year history the donations exceeded $200,000. President Blake Thompson said it best: this was just another “incredible evening on an incredible campus with incredible students.”