As Hernando High students recently practiced their graduation exercise, principal Duane Case took a break to make an announcement.
“Today, one student in our audience is going to get a special gift,” Case said. “This student is the recipient of the Theron Long Memorial Scholarship. But first, I want to give you a brief history about the man whose former students and athletes wanted to remember him by organizing on on-going scholarship fund. Every year, a Hernando High graduate will be awarded a scholarship in his honor.”
Case told the students that “Coach” Theron Long was, for over 44 years, a beloved coach, teacher, principal and administrator for Hernando High School. He also served two terms on the DCS Board of Education.
“In 1969, his girls’ basketball team won the state championship and he encouraged all students to achieve their best in both athletics and academics,” Case said. “Our gym was named in his honor in 2007. He served as principal of Hernando High for almost three decades. No one loved our school more than Coach Long.”
Case told the students how Coach Long mentored countless students through the years and became a respected figure both during and after his career.
“He knew not only his students, but the parents and grandparents as well,” Case related. “He encouraged kindness, forgiveness and respect toward others setting an example for several generations of students.”
Then came the moment to reveal the winner.
“The winner of the Theron Long Memorial Scholarship is Makayla Swinford,” Case announced. “She plans to attend Delta State University and become a teacher.”
Hernando High School English teacher Rachael Wacker nominated Makayla.
“Makayla has wanted to be a teacher since I met her,” Wacker said. “She has a job after school working with special needs children. At times, she has experienced the discouragement that every teacher faces. She has come to me and asked questions on how to handle situations. She is invested in the lives of these kids, and loves what she does. She has the heart that will make her a great teacher.”
The on-going scholarship program is through the Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi. An anonymous donor started the “Theron Long Memorial Scholarship Endowment Fund.”
There are ten people on the committee who vote and make decisions for the fund. All gifts to the fund are invested and four percent of the balance is given each year to a student who meets the scholarship criteria.
Melba Wooten is one of the ten committee members.
“This scholarship is especially important to our group,” she said. “We feel very strong about not only keeping his memory alive, but also to help encourage students, educators and administrators strive to excel in both their academic and their personal lives as Coach Long taught us. He lived by example.”
Katherine Nelson is Communications Director for DeSoto County Schools.