MMI finds strength in local talent

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 5, 2004

What was once its weakness may now be Marion Military Institutes strength.

MMI dropped their men’s collegiate basketball program in late May due to financial struggles. But in less than two months MMI Athletic Director, Mitchell Ivey has found a way to resurrect the program.

“The program was suffering finically, basically because it was not bale to draw in supports. We didn’t have any supporters because we didn’t have any local players,” Ivey said.

“MMI has never really had much support from the local community, but we believe that if we re-focus our recruiting efforts to a more local level, it will bring more support to the program and therefore enable it to grow.”

Ivey then brought her idea to Col. James Benson, MMI’s newly hired president, who was convinced that it could work.

“I couldn’t put my finger on the justification of not having a men’s basketball program,” Benson said. “I have always been a strong supporter of athletics and a firm believer that a strong athletic program makes for a strong institution of higher learning. And after talking with coach Ivey I was convinced that college basketball at MMI was not a losing effort.”

Colonel Benson, United States Marine (Retired), became the fifteenth president of Marion Military Institute on July 15, 2004. Benson holds a Master of Science Degree in Physical Education from the University of Tennessee, a Master of Public Administration Degree from Penn State University, and is completing a doctorate in Higher Education Administration from George Washington University. His military career included assignments as Commanding Officer, Special Operations Counter-terrorism Joint Task Force; Commanding Officer, Sixth Marine Regiment; and Chief of Staff/Assistant Division Commander, Second Marine Division. And he is a decorated combat veteran of the Vietnam War.

West Alabama, contrary to popular belief, is thriving in basketball talent. In 2003, as many as four West Alabama AHSAA high school teams made the trip to Birmingham for the state finals, two of which won a state championship. Two AISA teams also made the state finals and one earned a state championship.

“The talent is definitely there,” said MMI head basketball coach Don Flick. And we have to take advantage of that talent.”

Flick, who is still officially in his first year as head coach at MMI, already has three local commitments for the 2004-2005 season in Shawn Washington (Sunshine High School), Jeremiah Whitt (Keith High School) and Mardriquis Lewis (Sunshine High School).

Flick plans to fill the remaining open positions on the MMI roster with the help of an open tryout. MMI will hold open tryouts for its 2004-2005 men’s college basketball team on Saturday August 7, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Ireland Athletic Center on the campus of MMI.