A scrapbook full of articles can help one remember and reminisce certain events, but for one Potts Camp woman, it was how she stayed connected with her high school sweetheart as he played college basketball.
Tom “Mitch” Stone and his wife, Anna, were high school sweethearts while in school at Potts Camp in the 1930s. While playing for the Cardinals, Mitch led the team to back-to-back state titles. Graduating in 1936, Mitch moved on to Sunflower Junior College, now known as Mississippi Delta Community College, where he was an All-Mississippi Valley Conference selection and team captain in 1937. Three-years younger than her boyfriend, Anna began to collect articles from Mitch’s games at Sunflower. The result, four-years worth of stories, every one she could get her hands on, and priceless stories.
“With him playing so far away, this was the only way I could keep up with him,” Anna explained. “I attended one game while he played in college. That’s why I started collecting the articles. It was fun for me to read and collect all of them.”
Mitch played ball at Sunflower with another local talent, Googe Prather from Prentiss. The standouts played against New Albany’s Jack Busby, as he was a member of Holmes Junior College’s team. The three had successful junior college careers, which remarkably led all of them to the same senior college, the University of Alabama.
“They all tried out at Alabama and were able to make the team,” Anna said. “It’s very rare that three junior college transfers from Mississippi could make it on to one of the premier SEC teams at the time.”
While at Alabama, the trio picked up the nickname, “The Three Basketeers,” and were successful under head coach, Hank Crisp.
Winning the 1939 SEC championship, the basketeers received numerous honors, as Mitch was named All-SEC honorable mentioned for his efforts. The trio helped the Tide defeat several powerhouses of that time, including Adolf Rupp’s Kentucky Wildcats. Although he loved his time at Alabama, Mitch would have enjoyed playing within the state that much more.
“Alabama flat out recruited the Mississippi schools,” Anna said of the recruiting process. “Mitch would have loved to have played at Ole Miss or Mississippi State, but they weren’t offering what Alabama was. State was a very good team at that time, but Alabama just recruited better and took the good players from the state.”
During their tenure with the Tide, the trio became close off the court, as they were roommates, and ironically all enrolled at the school of education.
Graduating in1940, Mitch and Anna were married and Mitch joined his bride back in their hometown. From that time on, Mitch was a member of several teams in Northeast Mississippi, including a semi-pro baseball team in New Albany. Also organizing several basketball teams in Tupelo, this was his way to continue to play the game he loved.
“The teams never lasted long, maybe two to three years,” Anna explained, “but he loved to play, and the games were fun to watch.”
Two of the basketball teams that Mitch played for were the Tupelo Legionnaires and the Tupelo Tornados, and they would take on various teams like themselves.
“The best games were at the old Ki-Ro gym in New Albany,” Anna said. “I wish I could find a picture from the games played there. There were people sitting in the window panes because there was no room.”
With the semi-pro baseball team, Mitch was a player for five seasons, then served as both player and coach for three seasons. As his athletic career came to a close, Mitch moved into coaching, which produced most of his popularity in the area.
Starting off in Pontotoc, Mitch coached two years in that county and one year in Union County before taking the opportunity to be at the helm of his alma mater in Potts Camp.
Serving 18 years with the Cardinals, Potts Camp regained their spot on top in 1961 with another state championship. At the time, the state was divided in two divisions, with the winners facing off for the overall grand championship in the state. In 1961, it was the small school winner Potts Camp versus Starkville from the large division. An obvious underdog, the Cardinals prevailed, defeating the Yellow Jackets 80-70 to become the overall state champions.
“That was a very special team,” Anna said of the ’61 squad. “Mitch told those boys in the seventh grade that if they stuck together, they would win state, and he was right. They were the better team, and this was one of his greatest moments.”
The next day, Mitch and his champion squad traveled to the Governor’s mansion, where they met then Governor Ross Barnett, and Mitch also had the opportunity to coach the North in the Mississippi All-Star game that same year.
Mitch passed on his love for the game to his children, as two of his three daughters played, as well as his son, Mitch, Jr. The elder Stones have also watched as two of their grandsons have played in the state tournament and were All-State selections.
Mitch excelled outside of sports, as he was also a political figure in the area. He served as the mayor of Potts Camp in the 1950′s, where he helped organize the Potts Camp Park Boosters, an organization that raised $100,000 for the parks in the area.
From 1968-76, Mitch also served as a state representative and was a veteran of World War II. In 1999, Mitch was an inductee into the inaugural class of the Delta Sports Hall of Fame.
On July 31 of this year, Mitch passed away, leaving behind a legacy to the Potts Camp community, as well as an impressive number of scrapbooks full of stories that Anna enjoys to tell. From his playing days at Alabama to something as simple as the warm-up uniforms Mitch purchased with his own money for his Potts Camp team, Anna continues to pass on the legacy of her late husband.
“These boys were picked on for the warm-ups Mitch bought them,” Anna laughed as she looked at one of the pictures. “But those boys and fans weren’t laughing after Mitch and his boys put a beating on them.”
When asked what she wanted to do with the scrapbooks, the obvious answer is to keep them within the family for them to share for years to come.
“The Union County Museum has asked me for pictures from the semi-pro baseball team, and I’ve helped them,” Anna said. “As far as the scrapbooks, I think it’s great for the grandchildren and great-grandchildren to be able to see them and see how good of a ball player he was. They’re not that interested in it right now, but my hope is that one day they’ll be able to appreciate what he did.”
There is so much truth to the fact that basketball is such a huge sport in this area. People like Mitch Stone are a huge part of the tradition and how the game has become what it is in the area.
“This was the only sport that all of the schools could play, and it’s still that way,” Anna explained. “He loved it, and it shows that there’s more than football. This is all the small schools have and it’s a big part of these kids lives, like it was for Mitch.”