Some fans are torn, but no one has a dilemma like Lee’s daughter

Published 1:25 am Thursday, November 24, 2011

It’s 7.6 miles from the front door of the Maroon Tide field house at Memorial Stadium in Picayune to the front door of the Blue Devil field house at Hendrix Stadium in Carriere, and to say that the two teams and fans are neighbors is not a cliche’.

They will meet on Friday night in perhaps one of the most historic football games in Pearl River County history. The winner will be South State Class 5A champions and will play for the State Championship in Jackson next week. Expected are 7,000 fans at Picayune’s Memorial Stadium on Friday. Kickoff is 7 p.m.

Many Maroon Tide fans know Blue Devil fans, and the school administrators and teachers all know one another. Many Picayune residents follow both the Tide and Blue Devil teams, and attend the home game of which ever is  in town.

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One exasperated fan said he had given up and will pull for the Blue Devils to score when that team has the ball and the Tide when it has the ball. But that won’t work with most. Chose a side; don’t sit on the fence, they say.

Now, you think you got a dilemma? You really ain’t! Just take Devin Smith, for instance.

Her father is Maroon Tide Head Coach Dodd Lee and her husband is Seth Smith, the Blue Devils’ defensive coordinator. Lee has four small grandsons who are Blue Devils. Devin also teaches at Pearl River Central.

In an interview with the Item, she said, “It really dawned on me in the fourth quarter of the Long Beach game. I knew we would win and something unique would be happening at Pearl River Central. All the Blue Devil dreams were coming true. But I knew that Daddy would probably win, too. And I thought about the three decades he had worked for something like this. And I felt a knot forming in my stomach, and I said to myself, ‘Uh! Oh!’.”

She said both of her families are “handling it real well.”

“We have four boys you know, and they keep everything in perspective for us,” said Devin. “They know that PawPaw and Daddy are playing a big game on Friday.

“That’s the question of the week, How I’m feeling about this game? But I can understand everybody’s interest,” she said.

She added, “I was raised in a football family. And I watched Dad sacrifice for 31 years, and I know this has been his ultimate goal, and he is probably closer to that goal than he has ever been. Knowing this, I can’t help but yearn for him, too.”

She continued, “But at the same time, I sacrificed my husband and my kids sacrificed their father, and he and the Blue Devils are doing something that is making history, so either way, when the game is over on Friday, I will be ecstatic for somebody, but I will also be heartbroken for somebody, too.”

She said the game and competition is a discussion point between families. “They, both Dad and Seth, talk about it; they are grown up about it; they have a great relationship; and they are very humble to one another. You know that Seth worked for Dad for five years, so they each know how the other thinks.”

“The boys (she and Seth have four) help ease the tension for us all,” she said. “They love their PawPaw and love their Daddy. Those kids are the center of everything in the families.”

The game is a once-in-a-lifetime contest. Not since 1986, when the Maroon Tide won the class 5A state championship under the late Calvin Triplett, has the Tide played for South State at Memorial Stadium.

Many fans from both communities are even kin.

It’s only the second time that Picayune under Lee has been this far, and the first time for the Blue Devils to play for South State. Second-year head coach Eric Collins has performed a miracle at Carriere in only his second season at the helm, but gives the credit to his coaches and “kids,” as he calls them. Collins is a seasoned coach, having coached at Tupelo for six years prior to coming to PRC.

Lee has consistently turned out a solid winner, year-after-year, at Picayune and makes the playoffs, but a state championship so far has eluded him.

The closeness and uniqueness of this game has not been lost on sports fans.

Perhaps summing the whole thing up recently was a glimpse that many fans caught between Lee and one of his grandsons, following the 41-14 win by Picayune over Carriere in regular season play.

After the teams congratulated each other at mid-field, Lee grabbed a football and began pitching passes on the field to his grandson. His grandson was wearing a Blue Devil jersey.

It doesn’t get any more amazing than that, said one fan still in the stands watching Lee play pitch-and-catch with his grandson on the Picayune Maroon Tide field.

The Blue Devils are 9-4 going into the contest and the Maroon Tide is 11-2.

Advance tickets go on sale at 9 a.m. Friday at the Picayune vocational-technical center on Goodyear Boulevard until 2 p.m. and again at the stadium gates when they open at 4 p.m.

Kickoff is 7 p.m.