| By Myra Bean
South Panola’s highly recruited linebacker Chris Strong has withdrawn from the school and transferred to Genesis One Christian School in Mendenhall.
Genesis One is a private boarding school with about 120 students in grades kindergarten through 12.
In Clarion-Ledger articles Wednesday and Thursday, Strong cited he is attending the school to improve his grades and get ready to take the ACT.
"I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do to get eligible for college," he told the Jackson newspaper.
Strong made his name on the football field and has garnered postseason honors the last two years, being named defensive player of the year for both.
He was also selected Mr. Football 2006 by The Clarion Ledger and played in the U.S. Army All American Bowl game earlier this month.
Strong made a nonbinding oral commitment to play football at Ole Miss in the fall. He has not taken the ACT, which is required for all students to be eligible to attend any college.
South Panola principal Dr. Gearl Loden said he could not comment on any specific child in the school but said all students are given the opportunity to receive a successful high school education.
Loden has fielded phone calls and emails suggesting communicating to students the ACT dates and courses that have to be completed for graduation and college entrance.
There were extenuating circumstances regarding Strong’s transfer, according to Loden, but he was not at liberty to outline those circumstances.
"I think this was a very adult decision he made," said South Panola High School counselor Shauna Myers.
"We want every child to have a great education," Loden said. "Mrs. Myers works very hard with each of the students to see that they have everything they need to graduate."
The school will soon introduce a long-planned online ACT preparation course that the students can take advantage of to prepare for the exam.
South Panola already has Club 21 for students who make at least a 21 on the ACT. Last year there were 60 students and this year there are 55. About 12 of the students made at least a 25.
As for the football student athletes, Loden said ACT scores are better now for those students than in earlier years.
"We have athletes who have made this year 17, 19, 21 and 22," Loden said. "I feel the younger kids will make better scores in the years to come."
The school already has a calling system which calls parents to update them on coming events. A sign on Tiger Drive bears information as well.
"If we give students a note or send a letter home, the parents do not always get them," Loden said. "Some parents have even given me their cell phone numbers to make sure they get any messages from the school."
The school also holds meetings for senior parents, most recently last Thursday. The school officials explain to the parents what seniors need to do to graduate.
Loden said about 200 parents have been at these meetings.
Loden and the school want to assure the general public that everything possible is being done to assist the students in preparing for life after high school.
"We even work closely with the community in our vocational school for students who will not attend college," he said. "For those who want to be engineers, for example, we will push them as hard as we can.
"We are not just concerned with the athletes," Loden said. "We are concerned for all our students."
As for Strong, Genesis One has a $10,000 tuition for one semester, according to The Clarion-Ledger. Strong said in that article that his mother and family are paying the tuition.
The Clarion Ledger outlined the criteria players must meet in order to be academically eligible as freshmen in NCAA Division 1-A: grade point average of 2.5 in 14 core courses such as math, science and English and a score of at least 17 on the ACT.
There is a sliding scale in place that allows for eligibility if a player scores lower in one of the areas but higher in another, the article said.
Strong also told The Clarion-Ledger he hopes he will avoid attending Hargrave Military Academy, like former teammates Peria Jerry and John Jerry, who both now start for Ole Miss.