Prep football lost a legend

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, July 9, 2014

In 1986, when Picayune won the Class 5A state championship, one of the toughest home wins the Maroon Tide had that season was a 10-7 win over visiting Pascagoula.

That was due in part to the Panther defensive line, which was coached, among others, by Walter “Waldo” Thornton.

The next season, when defending champ Picayune was unbeaten at 5-0 and ranked 24th in the nation according to USA Today, the Maroon Tide traveled to War Memorial Stadium and took on the Panthers again whom at that point were also unbeaten.

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Pascagoula trailed at halftime, before coming away with a 31-7 win on its way to an unbeaten season and a Class 5A state title. Thornton was once again a part of the Picayune-Pascagoula rivalry.

He passed away suddenly Sunday morning of an apparent heart attack at the age of 53.

One of the reasons for me writing this column, in addition to Thornton’s history with teams from Pearl River County, is the fact that he was one of my best friends.

25 years ago, when my brother was violently killed, Waldo became just like another one to me. We shared many a road trip to different games, and also shared many a conversation both late night at his brother Thunder’s place as well as daytime at his own office.

He will be missed by many, including me.

Waldo was a starting defensive tackle for Pascagoula in 1976, when the Panthers won the Big 8 state title. He then went on to play at Gulf Coast Community College, where he faced Pearl River Community College for two seasons.

After leaving the sidelines, he was a longtime play-by-play announcer for both Moss Point, my alma mater, as well as Pascagoula. He was behind the mic for many a Picayune-Moss Point game as well as quite a few Maroon Tide-Pascagoula battles.

He gave up his radio career after Katrina hit, and transformed back to the sidelines in 2006 as an assistant at Pascagoula. He then became a part of many epic battles between Picayune and Pascagoula as well as Pearl River Central and Pascagoula over the past decade while serving as a Panther assistant coach again.

He was known as one of the most knowledgeable proponents of prep football in south Mississippi. He was always very complimentary of both Picayune head coach Dodd Lee and the power the Maroon Tide program became. He also appreciated the accomplishments of PRC head coach Eric Collins that allowed the Blue Devils to return to prominence.

Waldo was one of a kind. I am a better person for having him in my life for the past 30-plus years.

Prep football in South Mississippi has lost one of its biggest fans. And I a brother in arms.