Greenville Christian Head Coach Jon Reed McLendon says he cannot find teams willing to play his No. 1 ranked team in the state.

Greenville Christian, the tiny Delta academy ranked No. 1 ahead of much larger private and public schools in all of Mississippi high school football, didn’t play last Friday night and won’t play this Friday night.

It is not from a lack of trying.

“We’ve tried everything I know to find someone to play us,” Jon Reed McLendon, head coach of the Greenville Christian Saints, said Wednesday. “We’ve reached out to every team we could find that had an open date this Friday night. We would have traveled anywhere. We would have played here at home. We just wanted to play. We have had no takers.”

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

Over the course of the season, three teams have canceled games with the Saints, each citing small rosters, plagued with injuries, as the reason. That’s why, with playoffs nearing, Greenville Christian has played only seven games and has a 6-1 record on the field (8-1 counting forfeits).

The Saints’ only loss was to Collins Hill (Ga.), the No. 1 team in Georgia and a team ranked No. 7 in the country. Most impressively, Greenville Christian defeated defending Mississippi Class 6A champion and previously undefeated Oak Grove at Oak Grove in a hastily arranged game at mid-season. The Saints also own one-sided victories over much larger private schools Madison-Ridgeland Academy, Jackson Prep and Jackson Academy.

Rick Cleveland

The Saints, an all-Black team dominating Mississippi’s predominantly white private school league, have earned statewide acclaim and are on the verge of national notoriety. CBS News recently had a crew in Greenville to film a segment scheduled to air on CBS Morning one day next week. That will be nice, McLendon said, but his team would rather play ball.

“It’s just frustrating, really, really frustrating,” McLendon said. “These kids have worked so hard and continue to work so hard every day, every week and then they don’t have the opportunity to play on Friday night. There’s supposed to be a reward for all that hard work, but our guys are not getting that reward.”

Greenville Christian was originally scheduled to have played four home games by now. The Saints have played only one. They have one regular season game remaining, Oct. 22, against Delta Streets of Greenwood. The game is scheduled to be played at Greenville Christian. And, said McLendon, “The Delta Streets coaches have assured us they are going to come play.”

After that, the playoffs begin.

Southern Miss once had a football motto: “Anyone. Anywhere. Anytime.” Greenville Christian has tried to adopt practically the same mantra. But here lately the Saints can’t find anyone who will play them, no matter where, and no matter when.

READ MOREGreenville Christian knocks off reigning 6A champs Oak Grove

Two weeks ago, McLendon began searching far and wide to land an opponent for this Friday night. He thought for certain he had a foe in St. John’s College High School of Washington D.C., an undefeated, nationally-ranked team that plays in the strong D.C. Catholic league.

Greenville Christian was willing to make the 15-hour bus ride to play in return for a $10,000 guarantee to help offset the expensive trip. McLendon says the team even heard from potential donors around Mississippi who promised to help fund the trip.

“I thought it was going to happen,” McLendon coach. “The St. John’s coach seemed like he wanted it to happen. It would have been a really long trip, a really tough game, but we were ready to go. Our kids were excited.”

Then came the news late last Friday that St. John’s had decided not to play, that their coaches had decided they really needed the open date to prepare for a grueling slate of difficult upcoming league games.

“That was option one, but we already had feelers out with other schools,” McLendon said. “We contacted teams in Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Arkansas, all over the place really.”

McLendon thought he had found another opponent in a private school in Clearwater, Fla., Again Greenville Christian would have had to travel, but the Saints were more than willing.

“The first indication we got from their coaches was that they really wanted to play,” McLendon said. That was over the weekend. The deal fell through Monday.

“Their coaches said their school was on fall break and after checking they learned several players already had made plans for college visits,” McLendon said.

A much more reasonable solution: Hartfield Academy of Flowood, a much larger private school team with an impressive 7-1 record, has an open date Friday night. McLendon reached out, to no avail. “I get it,” McLendon said. “They have Jackson Prep and MRA coming up the next two weeks. They probably don’t need another hard game, but we sure would have like to have played.”

McLendon thought he had two more possibilities with Memphis teams. Both decided not to play in the end.

“It’s tough, especially for our seniors and we’ve got 21 of them,” McLendon said. “This is their last year of high school football and they aren’t getting to finish it out like they wanted.”

The Saints still have the one last regular season game and then the playoffs. There is one more possibility. Greenville Christian almost surely will have a first-round bye in the playoffs. “So, we asked the state office if it would be OK for us to play one more regular season game that first week of the playoffs if we can find an opponent,” McLendon said. “They told us there is no rule against it. I don’t know if that’s what we’ll do or if that’s even what we should do, or if there is anyone out there who would play us. But we probably will explore it.

“Our guys just want to play.”

READ MORE: Need a game? Greenville Christian needs willing football opponents

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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.