Willis Wright joining SP Sports Hall of Fame

Published 11:36 am Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Architect of ‘University of South Panola’ dynasty years

Retired coach Willis Wright has been recognized enough that he shies away from additional publicity, but he is included, as he should be, in the list of students and coaches chosen for South Panola High School’s Athletic Hall of Fame.

This weekend 10 inductees will be honored along with three individuals who are being recognized for community service. Two year’s worth of Hall of Fame inductees are being honored as Covid previously prolonged the 2021 induction ceremony.

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Wright coached at Shelby, Drew, Carroll Academy, Saltillo, Starkville, Greenville (AL), Nettleton, South Panola and North Delta School.

Considered the father of the “University of South Panola’s” dynasty years, Wright has four state championships at four different schools and coached in 14 different state championship games.

He was named state Coach of the Year in 1984 while coaching Starkville. In 1987 he was named Coach of the Year in Alabama while coaching in Greenville and again in 1993 while coaching at South Panola.

Many other accolades have come his way. Google his name and the first thing that pops up is, “The legendary Mississippi high school coach led four different schools to five state championships, and he has led both public and private schools to state titles. He is also the only coach to coach for both sides in the Alabama vs Mississippi All-star game.”

His record as head coach is 227-66-5. As evidence that his coaching stint is not just ego driven, after a couple of ‘retirements’ he took a part time job as defensive coordinator at South Panola. Some close to him say it was only to support his fishing habit. 

His record as defensive coordinator is 74-1 according to the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, of which he is also an inductee.

Coach Wright attended Winona High School, Holmes Community College, Delta State and Ole Miss. He and wife Teresa have one son, Jack (also with very impressive coaching credentials) and two grandchildren, Mason and Anne Elise.

Included in the 2021 class are Durwood Gordon, Wayne Pitcock, Marilyn Foshee, Malika Griffin and Coach Ronald Lee (Runt) McMinn, who mentored local athletes for over a half century in his hometown.

Also to be recognized along with the 2021 Hall of Fame Class is SP super supporter Robert (Bob) Dunlap for Community Service. A life-long supporter of the school district and SP football, Dunlap was honored years ago when the football stadium was named for him. 

The indoor practice facility where the induction event takes place has his business’s logo affixed.

The 2022 Class along with Wright includes athletes Elliot Smith, Josh Bright, Kevin Jones, and Amanda Ivy.

Also to be honored with the 2022 class for Community Service recognition are longtime honorary football team trainer Von Sanford and dedicated South Panola supporter and athletic teams bus driver Patrick Sykes.