A first Friday night without the Weir Lions
Write about Mississippi football for 47 years and you learn that some days and nights — some stories and columns — stand out more than others. And some are those you would least expect.
Take, for instance, a day and night I spent in Weir (yes, it sounds just like Where?) in 2004. Why Weir? Every year, it seemed, tiny Weir wound up playing in the State Class 1A championship game in Jackson. So I drove to Weir, 33 miles southwest of Starkville on Highway 12, to find out why.
I found a town of fewer than 500 folks with a passion for football you wouldn’t believe. I found a community bound together by a football team. I found a student body, of whom 75 percent of the male students played football. I found 130-pound linebackers and 115-pound cornerbacks who would knock you into next week.
Kaylen Hester was one of those undersized Weir Lions, a two-way starter who summed up the situation in a way sports writers can only dream about.
“There’s not much here in Weir, but we got football,” Hester said. “Football’s mighty important here. If it wasn’t for football we wouldn’t have much of anything.”
Now you may ask: Why bring this up nine years later? Here’s why: The Mississippi high school football season opened this past weekend and there were no Weir Lions. This should not occur without at least some mention, some documentation.
Tiny Weir and larger Ackerman consolidated this year to become Choctaw County. The Choctaw County Chargers defeated French Camp 21-16 in their opener. Several players, who would have played at Weir, played for Choctaw County. Several coaches who would have coached at Weir, coached at Choctaw County. Victory had to be bittersweet.
From 1984 on, the Weir Lions won six State Championships and played for several more. “One reason we win is because our kids expect to win,” said Junior Graham, the Weir coach in 2004. “That’s pretty much all they’ve ever known.”
Graham has been gone from Weir for seven years now. He coaches at Eupora now, but don’t think he has forgotten his 14 years at Weir.
“I thought we had the honey hole of Mississippi football,” Graham said. “Just shows you how quickly things can change. Economics took a turn for the worse. I just hate it for the people there because it mattered so much. I feel for them; I really do.”
Graham feels the worst for Joe Lynn Gant, whom he calls “Mr. Weir Football.” Gant still lives a short down-and-out pattern from the Weir football field, which will be used for peewee games now. Gant was the architect of Weir football, the man who won the first five state championships and hired Graham to be his defensive coordinator and then his successor.
“Strange,” Gant answered, when asked about the first football Friday night without Weir football. “It’s gonna take some getting used to.”
Gant attended Choctaw County’s victory at French Camp. His son, Trey, who played on two of his Weir state championship teams, is now on the coaching staff at Choctaw County.
“The Weir people and Ackerman people really turned out in force,” Joe Gant said. “Ackerman and Weir have been big rivals in the past but there’s been no bickering and fighting. As hard as it is to imagine Weir without Weir football, it’s going to all work out.”
But mark this down: The tiny but mighty Weir Lions are not – nor should they be — forgotten.
The entire 2004 column about the Weir Lions.