Tiny Greenville Christian has defeated the defending Class 6A Mississippi football champion Oak Grove Warriors. They have blown out traditional private school powerhouses Madison Ridgeland Academy, Jackson Prep and Jackson Academy.

The Saints, the all-Black team playing in Mississippi’s traditionally white private school league, are the No. 1 ranked high school football team in the Magnolia State and deserve that ranking.

READ MORE: This all-Black team in Mississippi’s private academy league is making history

Rick Cleveland

But here’s the flip side to all this success: Now, nobody wants to play them.

This week, Rossville (Tenn.) Christian School became the third opponent this season to cancel a game with Greenville Christian. Saints coach Jon Reed McLendon received the news Tuesday and immediately used social media to search for a replacement game.

There have been no takers. Earlier this year, both Hillcrest Academy and North Point Christian of Southaven backed out of games with Greenville Christian.

McLendon said Rossville Christian’s reason for not playing was “they were concerned with player safety. They’ve had some injuries and thought it was in the best interest of their kids not to play.”

After the earlier cancellations, McLendon reached out on social media to search for a game on Sept. 16 when the Saints had an open date. Then-undefeated Oak Grove, which has played in the State Class 6A championship game the past two years, answered with an invitation to play in Oak Grove. Greenville Christian won a 48-41 thriller at Oak Grove.

READ MORE: Greenville Christian knocks off reigning 6A champs Oak Grove

Since then, Oak Grove has defeated perennial 6A powerhouses Warren Central (37-20) and Petal (48-14). Meanwhile, Greenville Christian has slammed Riverside (44-0) and Jackson Academy (30-9)  to raise its record to 7-1. The Saints’ only loss was at Collins Hill (Georgia) 37-22 in a game that was much closer than the score indicates. Unbeaten Collins Hill is ranked in the national top 10 and has outscored its other six opponents 209-10.

“Obviously, our kids are disappointed,” McLendon said. “They want to play. Heck, we need to play. Here we are in October and we have only had one home game.”

McLendon says he understands the concerns of the teams that have cancelled games. “We’ve been down that path before, where we had some injuries and only 13 or 14 healthy players,” McLendon said “I know how that feels. We haven’t always been like this.”

In fact, Greenville Christian’s roster numbered in the teens last in August of 2020 before several Delta high schools cancelled the football season due to COVID-19. Several of the Saints’ key players transferred to Greenville Christian and have remained there. The roster now numbers 36 players and the Saints have shown they can compete and win against much larger schools.

They might have a chance to do that again.

Greenville Christian is in discussions with St. John’s College High School of Washington, D.C., about playing a game Friday, Oct. 15 in D.C. Both St. John’s, a Catholic school powerhouse, and Greenville Christian have open dates. St. John’s, 5-0 and ranked No. 23 in the USA Today’s national poll, has outscored opponents 167-13.

“They want to play and, like I say, we need to play a game,” McLendon said.

The devil is in the details.

The nation’s capital is a 16-hour bus ride away. The trip is expensive. McLendon said St. John’s has offered a $10,000 guarantee to Greenville Christian but that won’t cover the team’s expenses.

“You’re talking about getting 50 people including coaches, managers and everybody, on a bus charter with a couple nights in a motel or hotel and then meals,” McLendon said. “We’re trying to figure out a way to make it work. It would be a great experience for our kids.”

Count Jackson Academy coach Lance Pogue, the national coach of the year in 2010 when he was at South Panola, among those hoping the Saints get to play the game at D.C.

“I have so much respect for those players and those coaches,” Pogue said. “They have a lot of talented guys and they play the game the right way. Those coaches do a terrific job.”

As it is, Greenville Christian has only one game regular season game remaining on Oct. 22, a home game against Delta Streets of Greenwood.

Said McLendon, “They have assured us they are going to play, so that is at least one more game and a home game we will get to play.”

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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.