If you’re going to stay in Biloxi, you’ve gotta do something. George Sekul can’t build a casino, and there’s nothing but a slab from where his father’s seafood business once sat. But the ol’ ballcoach has one last, great dream.
story by Dan Oshinsky / photos by Dan Oshinsky
published August 5, 2010
It’s 1 p.m. in Biloxi, Miss., and let’s talk about dreams for a second. Buy a home, build a home, raise a family, send ’em off to college, start a business, sell a business, make a million, or two, or five, or make something, at least. All dreams, all out there.
George Sekul just wants a football game.
Right up there on that brand-new all-weather Biloxi H.S. football field that sales tax built: the Beau Rivage Junior College East-West All-American Game. Or, if the NJCAA regents don’t like that, maybe just the George Sekul Junior College All-American Game. Either’ll do.
And nobody’s disputing that Sekul’s got the C.V. to do it. He won when he was the quarterback at Biloxi High. Won a Division II national championship as QB at Southern Miss in ’58. Went to the Senior Bowl in Mobile in ’59. Took over the job at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College in ’61, and won two titles there, the first two years after Camille. Lifetime record of 204-77. Winningest coach in junior college history when he retired. Bought a yacht and named it “Rah-Rah,” with everything but the exclamation point on the end to let you know that this is a man who measures himself by down and distance.
His father had dreams. Built a small seafood empire starting from just a third-grade education. Bought a home down on Myrtle Street, so close to the shore, when Camille came in, the place filled up with four feet of water before the second hand had swung back around to the 12. Got a couple of shrimping boats out on the Gulf, and named the first one “Captain Blood,” because that’s what the workers called him. Named the fourth one “Quarterback.” Guess who that one’s for.
The Quarterback’s done impossible before. Got a college scholarship standing 5’10” and weighing not much more than the critters his daddy was dragging in from the Gulf. In ’69, after the first storm-of-a-lifetime, his MGCCC team got asked to play just days after the hurricane hit. Some of the team decided not to come back, or others just didn’t return until weeks later. The team had a week’s worth of practice together before taking the field. The Quarterback gave ’em the rah-rah and whirled ’em out there.
“We got our butts beat,” he says.
But no excuses! Sekul learned it in football and he learned it in business, and he learned it again in 2005, because after Katrina, nobody was thinking about coming back to Biloxi. And of course not! There are 40-year-old men living along the Gulf Coast who’ve already lived through two once-in-a-lifetime storms. There are men in FEMA jumpsuits saying that new homes in the newly-expanded flood zone have to start 20 feet in the air, and there are insurance agents with clipboards saying that you’ve never seen anything quite as high as the insurance bill you’re about to open. If you’re gonna stay, you’ve got to wanna.
So make something. Sekul can’t build a casino, and there’s nothing but a slab from where his father’s seafood business once sat. A football coach retired 19 years just has to dig way back and find that one last pylon to aim for.
“Every day, I think about another goal I had, which I haven’t given up yet,” he says. “I want to bring a junior college All-American game to Biloxi.”
There hasn’t been a game like this played since ’56 — when Sekul played in it. That’s the game that got Sekul noticed by Southern Miss, and got him into school, and into coaching, and into the only life he’ll ever know. His father wanted him to be bigger than shrimping, and that ’56 game made it so. Maybe it could do the same for some other kid down along the coast.
“Got a dream?” Sekul keeps reminding himself, the old ballcoach the only man left to hear that last rah-rah speech. “Go get it.”
He says he wants to pick up the phone. Shouldn’t be too hard convincing the NJCAA; he’s already in their Hall of Fame.
Thing just needs a name. Funny thing about a place like Biloxi is how things get passed down: homes, trinkets, names. How many generations you had family here? Just count the digits on the end of the first born’s birth certificate. There isn’t a square inch of the Biloxi phone book that doesn’t have a Jr. or a III or even a few IVs in it. Pick a name and hang onto it for a few hundred years.
The George Sekul Junior College All-American Game?
That could do. ❑