BOONEVILLE, Miss. (WCBI/NEMCC Athletics) – The life of a Northeast Mississippi Community College softball player is more than just weights, strength and conditioning, running, practices, games and academics.
It is about learning how to become a well-round person in the span of two years, and that is what Jody Long has instilled in the Tigers over the last decade.
For his successful efforts to the local community and longstanding track record of service, the Booneville chapter of the Boys & Girls Club of America honored Long and his team on Wednesday, November 13 at the East Side Community Center inside Sunflower Park.
“Anytime we can be honored it’s a huge day,” said Long, Northeast’s ninth-year head coach. “But we don’t do this to be honored. We want to be very involved in giving back to our community.
“It’s huge anytime we can teach our kids to give back to young people. Our job in this is to create some kind of background of giving back not only now but as they enter adulthood.”
A Northeast softball player is involved in the neighborhood on average almost 10 times in a year’s span and will participate in approximately 20 service events during their time as Tigers.
A typical year starts out with the annual Booneville Kiwanis Club Christmas Pancake Breakfast on the first Saturday in December. In just over six hours, the squad is in charge of planning entertainment for those involved and serving the approximately 500 people that come to receive a hot meal.
Northeast also joins with the Make-A-Wish Foundation of the Mid-South to help grant a wish for children in need in the Prentiss County area.
One of the biggest projects that the Tigers undertook was constructing a life-sized playhouse for a three-year-old with leukemia on December 5, 2009.
Sara Beth Howell (Booneville) and Leslie Hendrix (Kossuth) headed up Northeast’s effort that included covering the inside of the playhouse with Hannah Montana décor and the placement of a toy stove and a karaoke machine for the child to use.
Howell and Hendrix both said that it felt good to make someone else’s Christmas.
“The look on her face was worth all the hard work that went into building that playhouse,” Howell said. “We felt that all the hard work that we put in as a team paid off.”
“Knowing that we made that little girl’s wish come true will stay with me for the rest of my life,” Hendrix said.
Northeast gets into the giving spirit around the holidays. Instead of buying presents for each other, the Tigers adopt a local family to give children a chance to share in the magic of Christmas.
The squad provided toys for the youngsters along with presents for the parents and clothing to make sure the family was warm through the holiday season.
In 2007, the Tigers joined with the legendary Kay Bain of WTVA’s “Kay Bain’s Saturday Mornin’ Show” as she helped provide warm blankets to Prentiss County residents that needed them.
Long’s group added another entry onto their social resume when they entered a float in the 2010 City of Booneville Christmas Parade.
Northeast’s float was entirely softball player generated and built. Long served as Santa Claus and Hendrix was picked to serve as Mrs. Claus while other team members sat around an open fire pit telling stories of Christmas.
In addition to its holiday-related community service, the Tigers routinely travel to area mental health facilities and nursing homes to sing to in-bound patients.
Northeast continues its philanthropic tradition throughout the spring semester by hosting its annual StrikeOut for Cancer doubleheader, the first of three service events held on the softball diamond.
The 2012 edition of the event saw current Tiger assistant coach Jaisa Emerson throw a perfect game against Mississippi Delta Community College. Erin Dixson, now at NCAA Division II Eckerd College, tossed a no-hitter in the nightcap.
Two softball competitions hosted by Northeast, the Racin’ Round Booneville/Make-a-Wish Foundation Tournament and the David Carnell Scholarship Fund Tournament, are held at the beginning of summer also.
All proceeds from both events are donated to the respective organizations the tournaments are named after.
Booneville Boys & Girls Club director Angelique Jumper felt it necessary to let the young girls of her institution see the Northeast team be recognized and allow them to interact with a group dedicated to helping in any way they can.
“It’s real important because that lets the girls see a variety of people that’s given back to the community from different age groups,” she said. “It helps them to understand more why we’re doing this.”
One current Tiger that has witnessed first-hand the service of Long while growing up is Bre Agnew. The freshman participated in the Booneville Boys & Girls Club as a child and is now returning the favor to by being a part of these projects at Northeast.
“This is important especially for me growing up around here,” said Agnew. “It feels great coming back and understanding the reason for giving back to the community.”
Overall, Long and the Tigers hope to make a positive impact in the lives of as many people as they possibly can.
“Just to see a smile on somebody’s face,” said the longtime coach. “If we can brighten somebody’s day, then it’s been a job well accomplished.”