Hattiesburg inducts its first-ever Hall of Fame class, and it's star-studded

By CAMAL PETRO,

It’s been a long time coming, but the Hattiesburg Public School District inducted its inaugural class to the Hattiesburg Hall of Fame last week. The class was made up of 14 honorees, including a handful of former professional athletes and a legendary sportswriter.

Former NFL star Harold Jackson, former NBA player Purvis Short and former professional baseball player, the late Bobby Myrick, and sportswriter Rick Cleveland were all among the 14, but Cleveland felt out of place. He most certainly belongs, though, because he’s left his mark on Mississippi with his words and the stories that go along with it for more than 50 years.

“I was really excited. I was mostly surprised that they had chosen me out of all the people,” Cleveland said. “There are so many worthy people for this hall of fame. I mean, the Hattiesburg Hall of Fame – it’s amazing.”

Myrick pitched for the New York Mets in the 1970s, making his debut on May 28, 1976. Prior to that, Cleveland was his catcher growing up in all-star games in Hattiesburg.

When the two played on the same team at the age of 12, Cleveland said he had celebrity status when he came back into the dugout after catching for Myrick.

“Because between every inning they’d come over to the dugout to see how red and swollen my hand was,” Cleveland said. “He was throwing so hard that he was knocking me over. I didn’t weigh but 65 pounds, so the umpire braced me with his knee.”

On top of Myrick’s professional success, Jackson and Short are also notable inductees with their successes in other sports leagues. Jackson had more than 10,000 receiving yards once he retired from the NFL, and Short proved to be a dominant figure in the NBA.

Before all of that, Jackson used to babysit Short when they were growing up in the Hub City. It was then when Short started to look up to Jackson for his on-the-field success at Rowan High School in Hattiesburg.

“You know how babysitters are,” Short said. “They’re mean, they don’t let you do anything and you always have to follow the rules. We lived in the same neighborhood and he would babysit us. He went on to have a lot of success and I was like, ‘Wow. If he could do it, maybe I could do something.’ There’s always been a great culture of great athletes in the Hattiesburg area, and I’m just so thankful that I’m a part of it.”

Short played 12 seasons in the NBA, and he averaged more than 17 points per game, four rebounds and a steal during that time. He spent nine years with the Golden State Warriors, two with Houston and one with the former New Jersey Nets, which now plays in Brooklyn.

Growing up a few years behind his younger brother, Eugene Short, he always wanted to play with him. It never worked out in high school, but the opportunity was there when it was time to decide where Purvis wanted to play college.

With around 100 scholarship offers across the country, Purvis opted to go to Jackson State and play one season with Eugene.

“I probably could have gone anywhere in the country,” Purvis said. “My brother was a really good basketball player and I really wanted to play with him. I wasn’t able to play with him in high school. I wasn’t nearly as good as he was, but I always wanted to play with him. When he went to Jackson, after I weighed everything, I thought, ‘I’m only going to get this shot once.’

“It was unbelievable and that was the best decision I’ve ever made.”

His older babysitter, Jackson, almost didn’t make it the gridiron growing up. His mother, Eartha Jackson, wanted him to play the trumpet in the school’s band instead of playing for the football team.

Jackson said coaches from Rowan  visited his mother one night, and they wouldn’t leave until she gave them her blessing.

“Three of my coaches, they teamed up on my mom and got her to say, ‘OK, let him play football,’” Jackson said. “If it wasn’t for that, I don’t know where I’d be today. I turned that trumpet in and I haven’t picked it up since.”

As far as what his future with the trumpet could have been like, Jackson knew the inevitable.

“I was just in the band and they had me making formations. I wasn’t playing anything, I was just faking it,” he said.

Stories like Jackson’s run deep with this inaugural class. Even though Jackson now lives in Los Angeles, Short in Houston and Cleveland in the Mississippi state capital, their Hattiesburg pride still runs deep for these inductees.

“It’s a special place to grow up,” Cleveland said.

“That’s the one thing you can brag on – where you came from. You always want to brag about where you come from,” Jackson added.

“I’m always telling folks that Hattiesburg has such a rich history,” Short said. “I was just complimenting them on what they’re doing, because for me, it really shines a light and exposes how great and how rich of history we do have here.”

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