Members of the 1963 boys basketball team reunited at their class reunion earlier this year. Pictured are, from left, Frank Coats, Jerry Winstead, V.L. Mott, Polan Willis and John Carter.
Members of the 1963 boys basketball team reunited at their class reunion earlier this year. Pictured are, from left, Frank Coats, Jerry Winstead, V.L. Mott, Polan Willis and John Carter.
Earlier this year, Neshoba Central's Class of 1963 reunited for its 50th reunion.

Among the many remembrances of those school days was the outstanding boys' basketball team under former Coach Ken Fortenberry.

"That was his first year at Neshoba Central," recalled alumnus Ray Humphreys. "He brought in a new philosophy and the players had to adjust to it. It was a slower pace but it paid off.

"I made most of the games. I don't remember their record, but out of 30 games, I would say they lost less than five."

A heart-breaking 23-22 triple overtime loss to Booneville in the 1963 North Half tournament is well remembered by Humphreys.

"It was a great basketball game," Humphreys said. "It was a low scoring game but that was the style of both teams. They set up and looked for good shots."

Coach Fortenberry brought that new offense to Neshoba Central when he came during the 1962-1963 school year. He stayed for five years and the Rockets enjoyed success.

"I think we made it to Jackson three of those five years and to the North Half four times," Fortenberry said. "We had some great times and wonderful memories from those years in Philadelphia.

"What I remember is how the players bought in to what I was trying to run. I wanted us to take a good shot and the right shot and they ran that offense well," Fortenberry said.

Originally from Pinola in Simpson County, Fortenberry was an outstanding basketball player at the University of Southern Mississippi. In fact, he was named to the school's sports Hall of Fame in 1986. He began his coaching career at Magnolia High School which later became South Pike. From there, he moved on to Neshoba Central.

"I went from a school that consolidated to a school that already been consolidated," Fortenberry said. "I came in during the summer and we would practice twice a week until school started.

"I remember how hard the boys worked and how much support we received from the families and the community. Some of the players lived 14 to 15 miles out in the country. It was a great sacrifice for them to stay after school and try get home because not everyone had a car. I think I wore out a couple of cars during that time, running kids around," Fortenberry said.

As for the loss to Booneville that first year, Fortenberry said he believes the Rockets would have won the state championship if they had won that game.

"We missed a free throw at the buzzer that could have won it for us," Fortenberry said. "The ball went in and out. They beat us by one in triple overtime. But I believe we would have won the state if we had won that game. No other team gave Booneville much trouble the rest of the way, and we were about equal to them."

Fortenberry also remember the Rockets' games with Philadelphia High School, describing them as "tense."

Fortenberry would move on to the college ranks where he coached the men's basketball program at Southeastern Louisiana. After his coaching career came to an end, he went to work for the state of Louisiana until his retirement. He and his wife still live in Hammond, La., where they enjoy their three grandchildren.

The starters for the 1963 team were Frank Coats, Jerry Winstead, V.L. Mott, Polan Willis and John Carter.