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Gray’s Lady Cougars create string music

Barry Gray vividly remembers the glorious scene. His BrookhavenAcademy Lady Cougars had just won the MPSA Overall Tournament andcompleted a perfect 43-0 season.

The Lady Cougars sat in a circle at midcourt as the song,“Call On Jesus,” played on the public address system inMississippi College’s A.E. Wood Coliseum. It sounded like music,straight from Heaven.

Gray’s girls made plenty of string music this season and itcould have been played on a heavenly harp. The DAILY LEADER’sLincoln County Girls Basketball Coach of the Year achieved theultimate goal by winning the Overall crown, beating Leake Academyin the championship game.

His wife, Lindy, had picked out the song about two daysbefore the championship finals. The girls embraced the music andsang it on the team bus as they traveled to the tournament inClinton.

“There were three important things about this team,” saidCoach Gray. “They didn’t want the success of the team reflected onthemselves. They remained humble. They gave credit and honor totheir savior, Jesus Christ. They know where their strength comesfrom.”

Gray quoted John 15:5 “I am the vine and you are thebranches.”

“That’s our mission statement,” said Gray. “That’s who weare.”

After many games this season, including the third straightClass AA state championship game and the Overall, Gray’s girlsgathered at midcourt with the opposing team and knelt for a momentof prayer. At the Overall, an enthusiastic crowd of 3,000 plus,which had cheered every shot, rebound, steal, assist and defensiveplay during the title game, suddenly paused for a moment ofreverent silence.

“The strength of our team was that we got along so well,”said Gray. “There was no dissension. Our fans are our strength,too. They gave us energy, especially at the end of games.

“I want to thank our administration, headmaster Dan Boyce;and our school board for their support,” added Gray.

According to Gray, his wife and Cheri Altman were valuableassets on his coaching staff. “They both played college basketballso they have a good eye for the game. They encourage ourgirls.”

To say the least, Gray’s girls have dominated Class AA,winning 5 of the last 6 state championships in his 9 years at thehelm. They’ve won 7 district titles and 6 South State crowns duringthat period.

The Good Lord has really blessed us,” said Gray, 41, a 1981graduate of Brookhaven Academy. He played on his father’s (JohnGray) Class A boys state title team in ’81.

Both Ole Miss graduates, Gray and his wife have 2 sons,Alan, age 15, and Alex, age 8.

Looking at BA’s basketball program, the future looks bright.Gray loses one senior starter in forward Jessie Altman. GuardsKelli Byrd and Lauren Smith and forward Mallory Logan and centerKristian Davison return plus top reserve forward EmilyLangley.

“We always had four ball-handlers on the floor,” said Gray.”That means a lot.

“Our program is in good shape,” said Gray. “The expectationlevel is very high for next year.”

According to Gray, his team has a strong work ethic whichdemands much time and effort. During the school year, they arriveon campus at 6:15 in the morning to lift weights for 45 minutes.Then they spend 40 minutes shooting baskets in the gym before 8a.m. classes begin.

“Our team looks feminine and very lady-like,” Gray pointedout. “But they are very strong physically.”

A typical summer finds the Lady Cougars playing as many as35 games at summer camps. They play public and private schoolsduring the summer.

“Last summer Canton had two 6-2 players and they beat us byone (point),” Gray recalled. “Clinton made it to the 5A (state)semifinals and we beat them by six.

“That gave us a good evaluation of how we would be thisseason.”

Truly, it was a season for the ages.