Whitten, Townsend part of SPHS HoF class
It would now be considered a primitive race as there were no digital timing devices and other amenities that surround races of today, but it was the Batesville Fun Run sponsored annually by Batesville City Parks and The Panolian newspaper that put Detris Whitten on the path of running which lead her eventually to Ole Miss with a scholarship.
“The Fun Run actually was the first race that I competed in and won and that was the main reason that I started running track,” Whitten said recently, adding, “I just loved that feeling and freedom of running.”
Deshea Townsend, as some may remember, quarterbacked South Panola’s first State Championship fFootball team, going undefeated in his senior season
Surrounded by a bevy of D-1 athletes and coached by legendary high school Coach Willis Wright, that team would set the standard for the dynasty that was to follow.
Wright described Townsend as one of the most gifted athletes to come through South Panola, noting that he might have had a future in baseball and also played point guard for the basketball team.
“He was great all around, great quarterback and great leader,” Wright said of the current NFL coach whom he credits with helping get South Panola’s program to the top tier.
Townsend would go on to the University of Alabama before entering the pros. His philanthropy to his home area has influenced many since the 1992 5A Championship.
The common thread with Whitten and Townsend being named to the inaugural South Panola Athletic Hall of Fame March 28 is they were both coached by other inductees as well as future inductees, including the names of Lightsey, Robertson, Abson and McMinn.
Although Whitten still treasures her “Fun Run” certificate, she says the late South Panola Coach Bennie Abson (also an inductee) had much influence on her as an athlete.
“He would always look at me and say, ‘I told you’. . . He always had more faith in me and my abilities than I did,” she said.
Whitten would be named to the All Conference Team in 1990 and also in 1992 when SP’s ladies track and field team claimed the District Championship, the North Half Championship, and the runner-up spot in the State Championship.
In 1990 she was a member of SP’s State Champion Mile relay team. In 1992, she was a member of the North Half Mile Relay Champion team, as well as the North Half 1600m relay champion team.
Whitten claimed the 1992 State Championship in the 1600m run and was a member of the State Champion mile relay team.
She set state records in the 1600m run and state record in the mile, both in 1992.
She was letter winner for four years at Ole Miss in Track and Field, where she was the second leading scorer in the SEC Outdoor Championships in 1993, was a provisional qualifier for NCAA Outdoor Championships in 1994, was Ole Miss All Time Record Holder-Indoor Mile Relay and 4x800m Relay and was part of three of the top 15 Outdoor 4x400m relay times in Ole Miss history.
Meanwhile after Townsend left South Panola he would go on to be a four-year starter with the University of Alabama-and that was still the front end of his football career.
He was a fourth round draft choice by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1998 and would start for them in 80 games between 1998-2009 playing in 191 games between his time with the Steelers and Indianapolis.
The owner of two Super Bowl rings (XL and XLIII), he tallied 21 career interceptions, 428 tackles, 15.5 sacks, three touchdowns, five forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries during his career.
In 2011 Townsend got his first NFL coaching job with the Cardinals and returned to the college ranks in 2013-15 where he coached cornerbacks at Mississippi State.
He went from there to the Titans, spent the 2018 season with the Giants leaving impressive statistics with defensive backfield players at all stops.
He is currently a secondary coach for the Chicago Bears.
Both Whitten and Townsend will be honored along with eight other inductees including: the late Bennie Abson and Robert Lightsey, Whitney Kiihnl Hickman, Brenda Miles Gray, Pete Robertson, Darrell Arnold, Jason Chrestman and Chris McMinn.
The banquet will be held Saturday, March 28 at South Panola High School’s Mall at 6 p.m.
Tickets, $30, will be available through March 1 from Susan Jeffcoat at First Security Bank’s main office on Eureka Street, Mettesave Drugs on Hwy. 6 (278) East, both in Batesville, or mail to George Carlson, P.O.Box 749, Batesville, MS 38606.
Cutlines: Whitten & Townsend