Last Saturday evening, Bay Springs hosted an out-of-state school from New Orleans, Louisiana. While Sarah T. Reed High School is foreign to many in Jasper County and neighboring counties, the third-year boy’s head basketball coach and Athletic Director might be a familiar name to locals. Rodney McDonald, a former Stringer Attendance Center graduate from the Class of 2003 is the Athletic Director and boy’s head basketball coach of the Olympians.
McDonald, who has a strong relationship with another former Stringer alumni, Dan Brady, contacted the now Bay Springs Athletic Director and head football coach to schedule a game with the Bulldogs in January.
The stars aligned so that the two teams could compete against one another, allowing McDonald to come back to his hometown and show that the people who once supported him, planted a seed of success for him to prosper in life.
“I was born and raised here [Jasper County]. I grew up in Stringer, then transitioned to Memphis, then I ended up in Memphis for six seasons as a coach,” said McDonald. “I always wanted to come back and coach in front of my community, family, and people who always supported me throughout Jasper County and surrounding areas. Jasper County holds deep roots within me.”
The Olympians hung with Bay Springs throughout the first half but ultimately were defeated by the Bulldogs after a strong second half from Bay Springs. However, McDonald was pleased with his players who fought valiantly.
“We are a small 2A school, and we played a 5A powerhouse the night before coming to Bay Springs. We got back to our school at 11:30 that night, then turned around the next morning to travel up here to Bay Springs and play.”
Sarah T. Reed is located in one of the more poverty-stricken areas in Louisiana, and McDonald stated that it is sometimes a struggle in certain areas of their students’ lives, but the players have formed strong bonds with each other and the coaching staff.
“Every day it is a struggle. Dealing with poverty and lack of support, but these kids are like brothers. They form bonds that they’ve never had before because that’s all they have now. A lot of them don’t have brothers or mentors. A lot don’t have fathers for mentors, so all they have is ‘Coach McDonald’ and our other two coaches on the staff. We want to be able to mold them in the right direction. I always use this message: you focus on the root, instead of the fruit. What I mean by that is, when you focus on the root, keep giving it water and fertilize, it will always produce great fruit. That’s what I’m trying to do in New Orleans and at Sarah T. Reed.”
McDonald also discussed how players and students come to Sarah T. Reed and how he and Brady have formed and shared ideas throughout their time as friends.
“I go to local elementary schools and middle schools to build a connection with athletic directors there. I try to tell them what we try to do at Sarah T. Reed. It is a great opportunity. Dan Brady and I were classmates and now he’s the AD here [Bay Springs] and I’m the AD at Sarah T. Reed, we try to share ideas on how he can help my program and how I can help his program. It’s a blessing to get ideas on things he’s doing well here and implementing them where I am.”
“We try to show them life skills and challenge them to be the type of man that they should want to be once they leave this program because it is bigger than basketball. Like, are you going to be a model citizen, are you going to be able to pay your taxes, are you going to be able to provide for your family,” said McDonald. “One of the special things as a coach, coaching kids in the inner-city is building such a relationship with them that when they are out of school that they invite you to their wedding, they send you a postcard, or call you and tell you they are expecting a baby. They start to realize that when you’re under this system and relationship, you will be successful.”
McDonald stated how unique of an opportunity it was for his students who had rarely been outside of New Orleans and Louisiana to see Mississippi and his hometown of Jasper County.
“Our guys are all from New Orleans, and this gives them a different experience. A lot of these kids have never stepped foot in Mississippi. We’ve been working hard, even though COVID-19 and the love that I have for these guys is unmatched. It is just a blessing to be able to get on the bus and see all of the state. The kids told me that they hadn’t seen some of the country like this [laughs]. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to come back and show the community that I do want to come back and show that love back they gave me.”
McDonald also recognized his parents who raised him and his sister up to be successful, as his sister is the owner of the local restaurant “Estelle’s” in Laurel.
“One thing my parents always gave me was to give back and to work hard. The greatest gift my parents ever gave me was that they believed in me. I’m just a little boy from Stringer, Mississippi who now is in New Orleans trying to change a whole area being a boy’s basketball coach and athletic director,” explained McDonald, who also commended his administration at Sarah T. Reed. “I have great support from my administration and they like the direction we are going as a program. As I said, we are blessed to be able to come back up here and play a good Bay Springs team. We have a great group of young guys. They have values of appreciation in how they play.”
“I wish people could come down and see how things are. These kids fight for each other and love each other through it all. If I’m not practicing with them, we have games. I don’t want them to be doing something else in the city that could harm them,” said a passionate McDonald.