There seems to be a theme this season for the Wingfield Falcons. Their 85-47 win over East Central two weeks ago, marked their 20th win of the season. It was the first time since the 2010-2011 season that the team has accomplished such a feat. The Falcons are also the reigning JPS Holiday Tournament Champions, their first win of the long running tournament in a decade. Now, they are two wins away from another historical accomplishment – a state championship.
Head Coach Spencer Gatlin is no stranger to success. He grew up in McComb and was a two sport athlete before moving to Jackson. Having missed summer football workouts, he turned his attention to basketball playing at Hardy before heading across the street for high school. As a member of the Provine Ram basketball team under coach Wayne Brent, Gatlin learned big lessons on how to be successful both on and off the court.
“He told us to write down our goals and not just things that we imagined, but write down things we wanted (to accomplish) and write down how we were going to get there,” Gatlin said. “‘I still use that to this day.”
One of Gatlin’s goals was to one day return to the sidelines at Provine as a coach. The alum checked that off his list when he returned as an assistant coach under Luther Riley. That year, the Rams matched up with Wingfield in the state playoffs. The Falcons kept the game close and had a chance to win it in the final seconds. However, a series of missed shot attempts as the clock ticked to zero gave Provine the win over Wingfield. Provine would go on to eventually win the state championship, but the game was forever cemented in Gatlin’s mind.
“I remember playing Wingfield and saying ‘I would love to coach that team,’” said Gatlin. “They had some great athletes and Coach Sanders had done a great job. I wrote down that one of my goals was to coach (at) Wingfield”
Gatlin’s road to his dream job has been nothing short of interesting. While serving as the assistant boys basketball coach at Provine, he was also the head football coach at Chastain Middle School where he racked up multiple city championships. He tossed his name in the hat for a series of high school coaching positions, but was met with rejection.
“I was trying to get hired as a head coach on a high school level and I made it to some interviews and was a finalist in a couple opportunities, but never got the head job,” said Gatlin. “They kept saying, ‘Well you don’t have any coaching experience on the high school level.’”
Gatlin took a series of high school coaching positions to gain experience. His first high school job was as the head golf coach at Bailey Magnet. He then added the head baseball and head football at Bailey. He was then hired as the first boys basketball and cross country coach at the newly opened Germantown High School. Under his direction, the Mavericks played for a district championship, two county championships and made the playoffs 3 out of 5 years.
However, when longtime coach Herman Sanders decided to retire, Gatlin accepted the job that he had years before written down – head coach at Wingfield High School.
“There is a rich tradition of having solid athletes in South Jackson,” said Gatlin. “The middle school programs had great talent, but would end up all over the city. So I knew that if I could keep our kids here, we could be successful”
Under Gatlin’s leadership, the Falcons have brought a type of excitement back to the South Jackson school that has been absent for a while. Games are filled with steals leading to breakaway layups and high-flying dunks. Spectators pack the home stands and fill travel buses in support. There is an air of electric excitement when the young men take the floor.
They have earned the hype. The team has four players with scoring averages in the double digits. Senior Damarion Arrington is averaging nearly 17 points per game. According to MaxPreps, the 6’ 4” combo player has also recorded 87 blocks this season while averaging 1.5 steals and 5.8 rebounds per game.
“(Demarion) does a little bit of everything for us. On the defensive end he is our run protector. He can score on every level. He plays above the rim like nobody else in the state.”
Senior team captain Deonta Griffin is averaging 12.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 2.5 steals per game. Jaqwone Curry not only averages in the double digits in scoring, but is the team’s leading rebounder. The 6’4” senior is averaging 10.5 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. He has recorded at least 8 double-doubles this season including a 17 point, 18 rebound performance against Lanier. Kentavian Hogan, a junior, also averages 10.9 points per game and shares ball-handling responsibility with Griffin in the team’s two point guard system. The team also gets significant minutes from Reginald Thomas, Johnny Flowers and Damon Haynes who got a slow start to the season due to injury. It is a collective effort by a group of young men who can often be seen celebrating the others on-court success.
“These guys love each other. They love being in the gym,” says Gatlin. “I really feel like they love me and will do anything for me. They have taken pride in being a family and being brothers in not just the word but the actions.
Gatlin’s goal sheet now includes bringing the first basketball state championship to Wingfield. The Falcons will continue that quest tomorrow as they face cross-town rival Callaway in the semi-finals of the 5A tournament.