Canton AcademyBy ALISON MARTIN,
Special to the Sun
“My favorite memory playing sports at Canton Academy is the first time we won state in cross country when I was in eighth grade. Our toughest competition had won the title for about seven years in a row, and the feeling I had when they announced that we won is one I’ll never forget,” recalls Mary Breiten Webb, CA class of 2017. The Lady Panthers went on to win a total of three state cross country titles in the years that followed under Coach Ben Williams leadership.
So often society tends to focus on boys sports, but there is so much value in girls sports. MomsTeam.com lists benefits of participation in girls sports as better physical health, better grades in school, better social life/more community involvement, better emotional/psychological health, career boost, and benefits to society as a whole. At Canton Academy, we have seen these benefits play out in the lives of our own students.
For the past eight years, Coach Ben has led our girls sports teams to seven state championships in cross country and track and field. The eight-time MAIS Coach of the Year, goes into every season in every sport he coaches (cross country, basketball, and track and field) wanting that state championship title – nothing less. “He would always say, ‘have some pride in yourselves, and play like you know how to play,’” said CA 2016 graduate Kate Carter whom Coach Ben coached in all sports through junior high and high school.
One of the keys to a great sports program is starting early and building a team. At CA, girls can start playing basketball and participating in a competitive track meet as early as fourth grade.
Eighth-grader Carrington Curtis had tried just about every sport at CA and although learned lessons from each one, her mom, Reneé, said she saw a spark in her daughter when Carrington decided to give running a try. “She was surprised how far she was able to run her first try, so she joined the track and cross country teams,” said Reneé. Carrington went on to place sixth in the 3200 meter and fifth in the 1600 meter at the MAIS state meet as a seventh-grader. “Track and cross country have taken her to a level of self-confidence I always hoped she would feel.”
Elizabeth Mosby Ellis (CA 1995) also credits CA sports and particularly Coach Misty Canoy with giving her that same confidence. “For me, I played basketball and tennis. Sports for me was such a confidence booster. I was so much taller than my friends and more athletically built. I figured out in seventh grade that I was pretty good at basketball, and I liked the attention that I got when I had a good game or scored a bunch of points. In 10th grade, Coach Canoy made a comment to me about having a chance to play in college. I had never thought of that before and once she mentioned it, it became a goal. I worked really hard, especially in the summers to reach that goal. My senior year our team won the Girls MPSA State AA Championship. Winning state was by far my best memory at CA...especially because it was played at home on our own court.”
Elizabeth went on to play for Holmes Community College and then University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Recently, she was inducted into the Holmes CC Hall of Fame. “The Hall of Fame has been the ‘icing on the cake’ for me. In my mind, it validates my hard work and love for this sport. My proudest moment was for my children to witness the induction. It’s also been a great teaching tool for my husband Michael and I to share with our kids. Hard work is tough, but it does pay off, and in this day and age when ‘everyone gets a trophy’ our kids need to hear that and see that.”
Caroline Terry (CA 2013) also took the lessons she learned as a high school athlete beyond graduation. “Because CA is so tight-knit, I had the opportunity to reach goals and experience success in a way that some schools just simply cannot offer. I’m thankful that I was given the chance to be a duel sport athlete because there was never a day or season that passed without lessons being learned,” said Caroline.
Having played basketball and tennis ... and spending a year as the Panther mascot, Caroline went on to play tennis for Meridian Community College and then Belhaven University. “If it were not for the CA athletic program, it would have been a lot more difficult to go onto the next level of play. Looking back, I can’t imagine my life without the past four seasons of college tennis. It’s safe to say that Canton Academy put me in a great position to succeed and enjoy myself while doing it.”
Canton Academy graduates and former athletes Sarah Roark Willis (CA 1993) and Magaret Phillips Welch (CA 1988) are excited about their daughters growing up playing sports as Lady Panthers the way they did. “I hope Reese builds long-lasting friendships, pride, and respect for CA like I did. I really hope that for all the girls,” said Sarah. Even as an upcoming seventh-grader, Reese has already been involved in cross country, basketball, and track.
“I participated in basketball, track, and cheer as a student and learned the importance of teamwork, respect for coaches and teammates, the value of reaching personal and team goals, and gained confidence and strength to handle tough and stressful situations. My prayer for my daughter, Gates, is that she has the same experience as I did,” added Margaret.
So, get involved wherever you are. The benefits of girls sports are many. Whether you swing a bat, cross a tape at the finish line, cheer a team to victory, dribble down court, perfect your back swing, or hurl a disk, don’t let the boys have all the fun.
(photo) MAIS AA Track and Field State Champs 2017: Carrington Curtis, Carley Crosby, Mary Breiten Webb, Melanie Crum, Lauren Anderson, Coach Craig Bowman, Coach Kenner Purvis, Coach Ben Williams, AB Williams, Jenson Williams, Anna McNeer, Ava Dickerson, Betsy Pace, Leah Brooke Irby, Faith Galloway