If you’re lucky, you learn something new every day. Take a visit to the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum and you will learn something new and interesting.
That goes for this writer, too, and I have spent about as much time in the place as anyone.
Over the weekend, I saw the museum’s newest exhibit: Pro Hockey in Mississippi.
Most of us know, if we have paid attention, that professional hockey has a history in the state. We had the Jackson Bandits here in Jackson. We also had the Sea Wolves and the Surge on the Gulf Coast, the T-Rex in Tupelo, and the RiverKings in Southaven. The teams are all extinct, with the RiverKings being the last to go, pulling the plug last year.
Those teams have left behind a lot of hockey fans – apparently, just not enough to pay the rent at the various coliseums.
But there is much more to learn from the hockey exhibit, including this: Did you know both Mississippi State and Ole Miss have club hockey teams? They do. Did you know Mississippi has produced at least one born-and-raised-here professional hockey player? His name is Marvin C. Powell II, born in Jackson, raised in Madison, and he raises eyebrows everywhere he goes.
For one thing, Powell is from Mississippi where ice is something we use to chill our ice tea and our bourbon. We don’t much skate on it. For another thing, Powell is African American and black players are rare in pro hockey. There are 31 teams in the NHL with at least 20 players per roster. There are 32 black players, total, in the league.
Powell, 27, hasn’t made the NHL – at least not yet – but he just signed a contract with the Columbus (Ga.) River Dragons of the Federal Prospects Hockey League. At 6-feet and a well-proportioned 200 pounds, he looks like he could play halfback in the NFL. Instead, he has played pro hockey previously for the Danville (Ill.) Dashers and Port Huron Prowlers, also of the FPHL. Before that, he helped Williston (N.D.) State to the American College Hockey Association national championship in 2013. He also played college hockey in Canada.
All along the way, the stock question for Powell has been: “And you’re from Mississippi?” And that is followed by: “How can that be?”
One Canadian teammate from Ottawa told him, “I thought Mississippi was a river not a place,” and then asked, “Do you have paved roads yet down there?”
So, how does a black kid, born at Baptist Hospital in Jackson, and schooled at Madison Central, become a hockey player?
It started when Powell and his twin sister, Mequilla, were 6 years old and watching the Olympic trials in figure skating. One of the skaters turned a back flip and the two twins were hooked. “We want to do that,” they said. At the time – this was 20 years ago – ice skating lessons were available at a rink on Lakeland Drive. For their seventh birthday, the twins got lessons.
Marvin Powell learned to skate, tried hockey and then was really hooked. He joined a youth hockey team that competed against teams Biloxi, Nashville, Atlanta, Birmingham and other Southern cities. At age 13, he was recruited to play for a Nashville-based team of advanced youth hockey players.
“My parents sacrificed so much in order for me to play at that level,” Powell says. “There was so much travel and expense involved for them. I am forever grateful. Obviously, I owe them so much.
“That’s part of the reason why I try to hold myself to a higher standard. I represent Mississippi. I represent my family who sacrificed so much and then, obviously, there aren’t that many players who look like me playing pro hockey.”
His family is a primary reason he chose to play this coming season in Columbus, a much easier commute for his folks. Powell will make the commute from Columbus to Jackson Friday for the dedication of the new hockey exhibit at the MSHOF, scheduled from 5-7 p.m.