MERIDIAN, Miss. (OMCK) – Like all spring sports in high school in 2020, Lamar School has seen its tennis season cut short by the coronavirus pandemic.
It was unfortunate, but the team accepted it. Then in April, the team was struck by a tragedy they never saw coming.
Lamar tennis coach Bill Autry died of a heart attack at the age of 56. He was the Raiders’ head coach for over a decade, leading them to a state championship in the spring of 2019.
This year marked the first season without Coach Autry.
Tennis sponsor and Lamar school principal Leigh Ann Ballou said it had been “difficult” for the team, especially last month on the first anniversary of her death.
Senior Morgan Mitchell said it was difficult without Coach Autry, but they tried to persevere and make him proud.
“It’s a little sad, but it’s been good,” Mitchell said. “We did well as a team. I’m glad we had a season in our last year.
Autry helped build the program while at Lamar, and the Raiders hope to carry on that tradition of winning the Midsouth Association of Independent Schools Association Class 4A State Championship (MAIS) on Thursday.
The Raiders have two boys ‘doubles teams and a girls’ doubles team playing on Thursday.
Mitchell and his senior colleague Bayleigh Brent make up the women’s team. Seniors Collier McRae and Miller Hodge are one of the men’s teams, while juniors Austin Dungan and Austin Carle are the other.
Dungan and Carle recently won the Northern State Championship for boys’ doubles and hope to carry that success with them to Thursday’s championship.
“We’ve won every game we’ve played… so far,” Dungan said with a laugh. “We had great team support when he competed at North State which is great. It’s no fun not having that.
Hodge is hoping that he can end his last sporting event in Lamar on a high note and bring home a title for the Raiders, especially since a family member has already done so.
“My sister won back when she was a senior… usually someone wins every year for Lamar,” Hodge said. “Considering this is the last event of my career at Lamar, it would be great to come out as State Champion.”
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