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Northeast CC Athletics celebrates 75th anniversary

Credit: Northeast Mississippi Community College

Northeast Mississippi Community College’s athletic programs join the entire institution in celebrating its 75th anniversary during the 2023-24 academic year.

“Northeast has a storied and reverent past in athletics that identifies where we have been,” said college president Dr. Ricky Ford, “and a passion for success that indicates where we are going. Every former student-athlete is a success story within themselves.”

The school was originally chartered in the state Legislature in 1941, but construction was delayed due to World War II. “The Northeast Mississippi Agricultural High School-Junior College” finally opened its doors for the fall semester of 1948.  

The high school was abandoned after one year, but the college moved forward and has since served thousands of students in their journey towards obtaining a higher education. Sports has played a vital role in the advancement of those efforts from the very beginning.  

Bonner Arnold, who had already made a name for himself locally as an All-American guard at nearby Wheeler High School, was hired by president R.O. Stringer to build Northeast’s athletic department from the ground up as its first coach.  

Stringer’s decision turned out to be good as gold. Arnold earned the label “The Dean of Junior College Coaches” and helped the city of Booneville receive the moniker of “Basketball Capitol of the World” by winning 497 games and finishing twice as national runner-up as leader of the Tigers.  

Arnold was responsible for the selection of the tiger as Northeast’s nickname. He wanted his teams to proudly boast of a moniker similar to that of his friend and legendary basketball coach Adolph Rupp from the University of Kentucky.  

He also had a hand in the design of Northeast’s first on-campus athletic facility. The “Northeast Mississippi Junior College Gymnasium,” which was built with three courts for physical education classes and basketball activities, was completed in the spring of 1952 and later rededicated in Arnold’s honor in 1973.  

Northeast sponsored men’s and women’s basketball teams plus an all-female cheerleading squad during its inaugural session. Baseball and football programs were launched by year two.  

The football and men’s basketball teams were originally dually affiliated as members of both the Mississippi Junior College Conference and the Mississippi Valley Conference, which provided the Tigers with opponents from the neighboring state of Tennessee.  

Success came almost instantaneously at Northeast with the football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball programs all capturing at least one conference title within their first three seasons of competition.  

The Tigers and Lady Tigers, or Tigerettes as they were originally called, have combined to win 84 total championships across all sports between the division, state and regional levels. The most recent was Northeast’s first-ever golf conference title in 2021.  

Northeast also has one national championship in its trophy case with aspirations to add more down the road. The 1986-87 women’s basketball team holds that distinction after pulling off an undefeated season under the guidance of Ford.  

The Lady Tigers claimed top billings with a thrilling 68-64 decision over St. Gregory’s (Okla.) College in the title matchup behind the stellar play of All-Americans Phyllis Stafford Dilworth and Sherry Slayton Holland.

Ford is still Northeast’s winningest coach across all sports with 588 career victories over 30 prosperous years. The center court inside Bonner Arnold Coliseum was named in recognition of his accomplishments in 2018.  

The Tigers and Lady Tigers consistently appear in the national rankings. Northeast has reached the number one spot multiple times, including in 1980 when another hall of fame coach in W.B. “Bill” Ward led the football program to its initial division championship with nine consecutive wins.  

Ward went on to present new opportunities to student-athletes from around the area as Northeast’s longtime athletic director. The sports of golf, softball (slow-pitch), plus track and field were all introduced during his tenure.  

Northeast has produced 80 All-Americans through the years. Several alumni have made it to the pros such as 1966 NBA All-Star Game Most Valuable Player (MVP) Adrian “Odie” Smith and Mario Addison, who became the first Tiger to compete in the Super Bowl as a defensive lineman for the Carolina Panthers.  

Smith is perhaps Northeast’s most decorated alumnus as an inductee into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He was part of the 1960 USA Olympic team that went to Rome, Italy, and secured a gold medal by going unbeaten. 

The athletic department at Northeast is also responsible for the development of productive citizens in occupations such as doctors, nurses, bankers, educators and trade workers that make a positive impact in the lives of others daily. 

Northeast continues to look ahead to a promising future. The completion of The Plex in 2020 has already made a difference for the baseball and softball programs with two of their best seasons ever just this past spring and even better days still to come.  

Additional facility upgrades and expansions are in the planning process as well. Northeast is serving up volleyball as its newest addition to the athletic lineup this fall.

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