- Associated Press - Monday, June 8, 2015

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) - Hattiesburg Public School District warehouse manager Terrance Bembry works hard at his job, but he always leaves time for “his kids.”

These are not the same kids as his three children - Mariah, 10; Tyra, 8; and Terrance III, 2. These are about two dozen 10- to 12-year-olds from Hawkins Elementary School where Bembry has coached five championship football seasons over seven years.

“I’m being a dad to about 20 kids,” Bembry, 32, said. “I just want them to know they can be successful - to have something they can strive toward.”

Bembry is more of a mentor than a coach to these kids - showing up at school to eat breakfast with them, checking up on their school work and inviting them over to his home on the weekends for barbecue or a little Super Bowl viewing. He does the same for his former team members who are now playing football at Hattiesburg High - talking to them about keeping up their grades and aiming for college.

“He cares so much about these children,” said Gloria Shropshire, academic coach at Hawkins. “He will sit them down to talk to them as if he were their father.

“He will encourage them when their hearts feel heavy. When he wasn’t feeling well, he would (still) come to practice. When I say dedicated - you can’t get more dedicated than Terrance Bembry.”

This year, Bembry coached the Hawkins Tigers to a 7-2 season with a win in the Mayor’s Cup in Hattiesburg’s City League Championship against Woodley Elementary. It was the team’s fourth consecutive championship.

That win also earned the team a place in the Commissioner’s Cup against the Lexington Colts - a much more experienced Association League team that plays from the Gulf Coast to Tupelo. A city team had never before played an association team.

The final score was Colts 12 and Tigers 0, but the Tigers put up a good fight, keeping the game scoreless until the mid-fourth quarter.

Many on Bembry’s team are from single-parent, low-income households. Bembry has been coaching them since 2007, when a Hattiesburg Parks and Recreation official came to him and asked him if he wanted to coach.

“I said, ‘Only Hawkins,’ ” he said. “I grew up on that side of town. I knew what those kids go through, and I wanted to be a role model and a father figure.”

Bembry said he didn’t have to compete with a lot of people for the job.

“Nobody wanted to coach them,” he said. “They were terrible. They had no work ethic. They could not handle any type of defeat. They were crying.

“Once they started winning and believing in themselves, they were an unstoppable force.”

Bembry, a Hawkins graduate, went on to Hattiesburg High School and eventually to Jones County Junior College. But he said his future could have included an athletic scholarship to a four-year university.

“I played football at Hattiesburg High School - lettered all three years,” Bembry said. “But I didn’t have a Terrance Bembry on my side.

“I was getting letters from all these schools - Ole Miss, USM, but I didn’t know I was supposed to lift myself up academically. I had the grades to graduate but not to get a scholarship.

“I thought just because I was passing in school, I could go to college.”

Bembry said he lets his team know about the mistakes he made. And he uses athletics to motivate them.

“I use these stories to try to influence those kids,” he said. “I had kids - fourth and fifth grade - (in trouble). I put them on my football team and gave them confidence and let them know if they work toward a goal, they can make that goal.”

Bembry said he tries to help the kids at Hawkins succeed on the football field, then they can transfer that to other areas of their lives.

“I’m tired of seeing kids never getting an opportunity to do good because a lot of these kids could be successful adults if they just got a taste of success,” he said.

Sixth-grader Walton Thompson was the quarterback on the Hawkins football team this year. He said Bembry was more than just a coach - helping him out when times got tough.

“It’s great - ‘cause in a bad situation, he’ll make it good,” Thompson said. “If we need a joke or something, he’ll give us a joke.”

Walton said Bembry also reminds him how to behave off the field.

“He tells me, ‘Don’t go to school and act up. Do what you’re supposed to do and get good grades.’”

Hawkins Principal Donna Scott said Bembry’s presence on campus has helped with some of the team members who were struggling academically.

“If you mention his name, that will help them get back on task,” she said. “He’ll check on their grades. He’ll address that being victorious in the classroom is just as important as being victorious on the field.”

Hattiesburg High School ninth-graders Fabian Franklin and William Robinson were some of the kids nobody wanted to coach until Bembry came along.

“He’s been here for us ever since about third grade,” Fabian said. “He bought us shoes and takes us out to eat. (He’s) both a friend and a dad.”

Fabian said he has learned a lot from Bembry.

“He wants us to do better in life,” he said. “He doesn’t want to see us in jail or be dead. He wants us to succeed.”

William feels intensely grateful to Bembry.

“I thank him a lot because, if it weren’t for him, I don’t know where I’d be.”

___

Information from: The Hattiesburg American, http://www.hattiesburgamerican.com

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