With little water, prep football adapts in Mississippi’s capital

Marcus Gibson never realized how much water a high school football program was using until it was gone.

Still, he considers his team to be one of the lucky ones when a water crisis hits Mississippi’s largest city.

The football coach at Murrah High School, smack in the middle of Jackson, Mississippi, not far from the state capitol, says his field house has 40 to 50 cases of bottled water stacked along the walls thanks to parents. of the players, the administration and others. benefactors That should be enough for your team to drink for the next few days at practice.

“Hydration is not a big deal,” he said. “It’s everything else.”

Many Jackson residents have been without running water in their homes and businesses this week due to failures at the city’s main water treatment plant. Torrential rains caused the Pearl River to flood, exacerbating problems with pumps.

Jackson schools moved classes online and canceled some of this weekend’s high school football games due to uncertainty about the water. Some restaurants have closed, while others are bringing tanker trucks with clean water from the suburbs. People wait in long lines to receive bottled water to drink or non-potable water to flush toilets.

Even before water pressure dropped dangerously low, Jackson’s water system was fragile. and officials had warned for years that a widespread loss of service was possible.

Now it happened, right in the middle of the hottest part of the football season. While there are bigger things to worry about during a crisis, soccer is a staple of the state’s cultural identity. Coaches and players are trying to find ways to keep going, even in less than optimal conditions.

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“We’re kind of used to it,” Murrah catcher Christian Jackson said before Wednesday’s practice. “After two years of COVID-19, we just make it work. Bring your own water to practice if you can and make the most of the opportunities, because some of our practices have been cancelled.”

Gibson said keeping everything clean is the biggest challenge. He said assistant coaches are making plans to wash practice and game uniforms in out-of-town laundries or anywhere else with enough water pressure.

Callaway High School coach Dameon Jones said he just brings his team clothes home and washes them himself, since he lives a few miles outside of town.

“We’re taking it one day at a time,” Jones said. “What I tell my children: adversity will come. It’s how you’re going to deal with it.”

Murrah and Callaway are among the four largest schools in the city preparing to play in a “Graduation Classic,” which was originally expected to be at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium. That was canceled due to lack of water, although there is hope that the games can be moved elsewhere. Thousands of fans were expected.

Three high school football games remained scheduled for Thursday and Friday nights beginning Wednesday.

“We will certainly have enough hand sanitizer and different things,” said Sherwin Johnson, executive director of public engagement for Jackson Public Schools. “Although our restrooms do not have water, we are reserving and will have portable restrooms at each of our stadiums, enough to accommodate the crowds we anticipate.”

Johnson added that no other sports were affected by the water shortage.

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The drawbacks weren’t limited to high school sports. Jackson State football coach Deion Sanders said Tuesday that the water crisis left his players without air conditioning or ice at their practice facility. in a video that one of his sons posted on social media, Sanders said he wanted to move the players to a hotel so they could shower.

“We’re going to find a place to practice, find a place that can accommodate every damn thing we need and want to be who we want to be, and that’s mastering,” Sanders said. “The devil is a lie. He’s not going to catch us today, honey.

The improvisational attitude is common these days around Jackson. Gibson and Jones, the high school coaches, said they are still optimistic their games will be played.

“We’re waiting to find out where the game is going to be,” Jones said. “Give us a time, a field and we will be ready.”

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AP reporter Emily Wagster Pettus in Jackson, Mississippi, and AP sportswriter Gary Graves contributed to this report.

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