Purvis students nominate Heidelberg for MS Sports Hall of Fame

A group of Purvis Middle School students recently took a trip to Jackson, Mississippi to nominate the late Willie Heidelberg for the impact he made during the Civil Rights Movement.

Seventh graders at Purvis Middle School are studying the Civil Rights Era.

"Our history students wanted to bring that period of history into the history classroom," said Carolyn Spiller, seventh grade social studies teacher.

Spiller, staff, and students are working to let it be known that one of the men who changed the course of history in American sports started his career in Lamar County.

"And we discovered that a man named Willie Heidelberg who played high school football here at John Jefferson was the first African American football player in a predominantly white college in the State of Mississippi," Spiller said.

Heidelberg showed his grit in 1970 when The University of Southern Mississippi defeated Ole Miss 30-14 in one of the biggest upsets in Mississippi sports history.

"Mr. Rick Cleveland from the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame recommended that we nominate him to hall of fame," Spiller added.

The group of seventh graders went to Jackson to hand over nominations from Heidelberg's former coaches and peers to Cleveland himself.

One student says she has learned a lot lately, and that she appreciates everything she's learned about Heidelberg.

"And the thought that he broke the barrier and paved the way for others, that's just, it's huge, it really is," said Shelby Reyer, 7th grade.

Heidelberg was the first black football player to receive a football scholarship at Southern Miss. Heidelberg died in October of an apparent heart attack. He was 63 years old.