Joye Lee-McNelis and the Lady Eagles welcomed the William Carey Crusaders as well as over 2,100 elementary students to Reed Green Coliseum for Education Day.
“For us to prepare young people for our future, we must start with elementary schools and helping them understand the importance of education,” McNelis said. “That is truly the number one meaning of Education Day. It’s not just about basketball. It’s about using this tool as an opportunity to let young people understand that it’s happening on a college campus.”
In the eyes of McNelis, Education Day should be three times the size it is now. McNelis considers the event not only a way to interact with the community, but also a way to recruit future Golden Eagles.
“If Dr. Bennet realized how many students we have in a five-mile radius and if they all came to Southern Miss, – holy smoke – we could be the fastest growing university in our state,” McNelis said. “But we have to teach those kids now that it’s not about Mississippi State. It’s not about Ole Miss. It’s all about Southern Miss, and they have to learn it at a young age because this is when they are most impressionable.”
Regardless of where the students decide to attend, McNelis sees the importance of them interacting with role models at Southern Miss as well as those in-town rivals at William Carey.
“People want their children to look up to somebody,” McNelis said. “There is nothing better than William Carey’s women’s basketball team and the Southern Miss women’s basketball team to be role models of how to carry yourself, of how to act, of how to understand what teamwork is about. That is what’s important here.”
Seniors Alarie Mayze and Shonte Hailes understand their role as leaders on and off the court.
“I see myself as a role model, so when kids come to the game its more than that,” Mayze said. “How I bring defense and just high fiving my teammates makes a big difference for a child to see that.”
Throughout the first game of the season, Mayze was seven for nine in field goals and had three rebounds. Hailes also had three rebounds and went three for five in free throws.
For Hailes, Education Day means reconnecting with her hometown as her former high school comes to watch her play each year.
“I take education a little more personal,” said the Quitman native. “My high school comes, and so when I see those kids over there and after the game they are all hollering my name, it just makes you feel good because they are looking up to you.”
The Lady Eagles defeated the Crusaders by a 30-point margin with a final score of 77-47. Southern Miss had the lead for the entirety of the game and had 52 points in the paint.
On Nov. 9, the Lady Eagles will travel to Starkville to face Mississippi State.