Anna Jackson with one of the nine Gold Ball state championship trophies her Murrah teams won.

(Ed. note: The Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame’s Class of 2018 induction banquet is set for Saturday night at the Jackson Convention Complex. This is the second of a series of columns on the six new inductees.)

Anna Jackson’s Hall of Fame coaching resume’ stands as one of the most impressive in this writer’s memory.

As basketball coach at Jackson’s Murrah High School, Jackson led her teams to a state record nine Mississippi Class 5A state championships. Nine! It is so difficult to win just one, and Jackson’s teams won nine.

Rick Cleveland

As a comparison, the late and legendary Bert Jenkins – the best high school coach I ever covered in any sport – won seven state championships. The late Orsmond Jordan, another Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame coach, won four. Furthermore, Jackson’s teams won 80 percent of the games they played, winning 692 games and losing 167.

Given all that, we are left to wonder why Jackson hasn’t been inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame before now. Indeed, she wondered herself, as she joked when her election to the Hall of Fame was announced last October.

“Before I got this call, I wondered if I needed to come out of retirement and win nine more state championships and then maybe I would get in,” she said, smiling.

There’s an old saying that applies here: Better late than never.

Jackson did more than win games and championships at Murrah. She didn’t just coach basketball. She taught life lessons, and first-year Jackson State head coach Tomekia Reed was one of her best learners.

When USA Today picked the most caring coaches in America in 1998, Murrah’s Anna Jackson (with basketball) was at the top of the list.

“She was tough, but she was caring,” Reed answered when asked what she thought made Jackson so successful. “She cared about us as people, not just players. She just cared.”

When Reed was a senior at Murrah in 1998, her mother was suffering from the breast cancer that would eventually take her life. Reed became so distraught and depressed she quit the team.

“Coach Jackson wouldn’t have it,” Reed said. “She set me down and said this is not what you want and it surely isn’t what your mother would want.”

Reed came back. The team won 34 games, did not lose and won another state championship. Reed believes she became a stronger and better person for the experience – but she would not have, if not for Anna Jackson.

If Reed needed tough love, Jackson was there. If she needed nurturing, Jackson was there.

“She became like my second mom,” Reed said. “She was always there for me when I needed her.”

What else made Jackson so successful?

“Discipline,” Reed answered. “Her teams were going to be disciplined, and I’m not talking about just on the court. It was the way we dressed. She wanted us to be like ladies, dress like ladies. She wasn’t playing either. Sometimes, we thought she was picking at us, but it was all part of her plan to make us a team and to make us better people.

“Another thing, was the classroom,” Reed continued. “If you didn’t do your classwork, you didn’t play. And worse than that, you had to run or do the duck-walk. I can’t tell you how many times she had players duck-walking around the court because they weren’t taking care of business in the classroom.”

Reed, who takes over at Jackson State after turning around the basketball fortunes of Hinds Community College, says she will utilize lessons learned from her high school coach for as long as she coaches. Not just the Xs and Os, Reed says, but the way Jackson treated and inspired people.

Said Reed, “She made us better players, but she also made us better students and better people.”

Coming Wednesday: Mike Jones winning coach and athletic director

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.