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Holmes puts Lady Panthers back in the state tournament

Billy Holmes got the Brookhaven Lady Panthers back in the BigHouse, a.k.a. the Mississippi Coliseum. It was the first statetournament appearance for the Lady Panthers since 1997.

For his accomplishments, Holmes has been selected The DAILYLEADER’s All-Lincoln County Girls Basketball Coach of the Year.

Holmes inherited a tradition-rich program but the talent levelhad taken a decided decline. His teams adjusted to a new coachingphilosophy and began steady improvement.

“Our girls made a lot of progress,” Holmes admitted.

“This year, the girls got some wins behind them and begandeveloping an identity. They got some confidence.”

As the season wound down, the Lady Panthers went on a 10-gamevictory streak. They won the Division 6-4A regular-season title andthe division tournament. They advanced to the South Mississippiplayoffs and reached the championship game at Waynesboro, wherethey lost to eventual state champion Wayne County.

In the state tournament at the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson,the Lady Panthers were eliminated by Indianola Gentry.

“I didn’t start the season thinking about going to thecoliseum,” Holmes continued. “I knew we had a good shot at being agood team.

“I knew if we got right, we had a good chance of winning thedistrict. We had a chance to be good.”

Beating Northeast Jones in the South 4A semifinals was a majoraccomplishment. They also played Wayne County close in the Southtitle game.

Holmes loses five seniors to graduation. They include guardsBlanche Wilson, Angel Weston, Portia Dickey, Alesha Irvin andCorena Bates. Wilson, Weston and Dickey usually started.

Also in the starting lineup were two sophomore post players, 6-2Nikki Byrd and 6-1 Swayze Black.

Holmes said improved guard play was a key to his team’s successthis season. “Give a lot of credit to Angel and Blanche. Those twoguards were able to fight that defensive pressure we faced againstteams like Northeast Jones and Wayne County.”

Holmes said Byrd and Black improved as the eason progressed.”Nikki became a big offensive force for us, Swayze became a strongdefensive player. Everything just blended together.”

He regretted seeing the season come to an end. “I wouldn’t bescared to play anybody in the state right now,” said Holmes. “Iknow we could be competitive with them.”

Looking to the future, Holmes said development of youngerplayers at guard will be critical to the team’s success level nextseason.

“We have to have some young people step up next season,” saidHolmes. “We lose all those guards. They’ll be hard to replace.

“We won’t have any experience at guard. It just depends on howlong they take to develop and adjust to varsity basketball.”

“People don’t’ understand that it takes a while for thosefreshmen to adjust,” Holmes pointed out.

Holmes teaches physical education at BHS.

Holmes, 65, is in his fourth year at Brookhaven. A Pike Countynative, he is a graduate of McComb High School. He attendedMississippi State University for one season and played for BabeMcCarthy. He transferred to Southwest Mississippi Community andplayed for Horace C. Holmes.

He also played basketball at Louisiana College, for BillyAllgood, starring at forward. Allgood was a Meridian native.

“Coach Allgood taught me what the game of basketball was allabout,” said Holmes. “He really taught the game.,”

Holmes began his coaching career at Loyd Star in 1964-65. AfterLoyd Star, he coached at South Pike three years. Then he moved toTexas, coaching one year in Beaumont and five years at HoustonSmiley High School.

“Those were great basketball days back then,” said Holmes. HisSmiley team made the long journey to Holmes’ hometown and won theprestigious McComb Invitational in 1972, beating Loyd Star in thefinals.

Holmes coached four years at Pearl River Junior College. Then hemoved to McNeese State (La.) College as an assistant for twoyears.

Changing careers for a period of time, he purchased a privatetennis club in Long Beach and ran it for nine years. He alsocoached at Pearl River four years during that time. He took theWildcats to the regional tournament twice.

Holmes returned to Houston and coached at Jersey Village HighSchool three or four years. He coached at the University of NewOrleans for 10 years as an assistant and then took the head job atMercer (Ga.) University for seven years.

After a 1-year retirement, Holmes returned to coaching at BHS in2002. He was hired by former Brookhaven superintendent of educationDr. Sam Bounds.

His wife, Linda, is retired from the Federal Bureau ofInvestigation. They have three grown children: two boys and a girl.They also have two grandchildren.

In his spare time, Holmes enjoys fishing. He lost a retirementhome in Lake Catherine, near Slidell, during Hurricane Katrina lastAug. 29. He hopes to rebuild.