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Former PRCC women's soccer coach to be enshrined in Hall of Fame

Dylan Dunaway - PRCC Sports Information Director


POPLARVILLE, Miss. — Jack Byrd may have arrived at Pearl River in 1999 as a kicker and punter on the football field, but his hall of fame career took off as a head coach on the soccer pitch.


There was the time that the Wildcats were outmatched against a juggernaut Jones College team but took them down in penalty kicks to advance to the MACCC championship game or the time he deployed Bay St. Louis' (PRCC Hall of Famer) Lyndsey Lee to neutralize Eastern Florida State star and current Manchester City standout Khadija Shaw. 



Byrd recently retold memory after memory as he talked about his successful 10-year run at the helm of Pearl River women's soccer. A four-time MACCC Champion, four-time MACCC Coach of the Year and a holder of Pearl River women's soccer's career winning percentage record, Byrd will be enshrined in the Pearl River Community College Athletics Hall of Fame July 26 at Hollywood Casino & Resort in Bay St. Louis.


"It was a surreal moment — an amazing feeling," Byrd said of finding out he was selected to be enshrined along with PRCC's best. "I didn't get to this point because of my coaching prowess. The student athletes that I coached are who made me successful. I didn't score a goal or make a save."


Byrd joins a 2023 class that includes football's Emil Jones, tennis' Pamela Munger, baseball's Nick Smith and men's soccer's Walt Thomas. The Spirit of a Wildcat award recipients are Bobby and Marjory Thrash. Pearl River is also honoring the four men's programs that made history during the 2003-04 school year by winning their respective MACCC Championships.  


The deadline to secure tickets is July 11. Banquet tickets and golf teams can be purchased at PRCCAthletics.com/tickets


FIRST EXPERIENCE AT THE RIVER

Byrd attended Picayune Memorial High School and was a soccer player by trade before eventually joining the football team as a kicker and punter. After some success, Byrd earned a scholarship offer from then-PRCC football head coach Keith Daniels. Byrd wasn't receiving the soccer interest that he liked and accepted the offer. By the time his sophomore year rolled around, Byrd had been named the starting kicker and punter for the 2000 Wildcats. 


PRCC had a rough start to the season. The Wildcats were sitting with a 2-3 record after five games with a matchup against No. 4 Southwest on the horizon. Just a few days before the monumental matchup, tragedy struck the Wildcat community as Daniels suddenly passed away.


"We weren't having a good season to that point, and we just knew we were outmanned ahead of that matchup," Byrd said. "We didn't have any practices, just a wake and a funeral for coach Daniels. Mrs. Charlotte, his widow, gave us a speech. She told us that he'd want us to be out there, and we were going to play the game."


The Wildcats played the game, indeed, and it was a battle down to the very last play. On a fourth-and-20 from the Wildcat 1-yard line, current Pearl River football head coach Seth Smith lasered a pass to Keshan Fudge to get a drive going that eventually came down to a 36-yard game-winning field goal attempt for Byrd. Despite not making the best contact on the ball, it sailed through the uprights and lifted PRCC to a 20-18 upset victory over the Bears — putting a touching stamp on a challenging week. 


"I was so mad at Seth for making that come down to me," Byrd said while laughing. "It was a cold, windy night and I kicked the worst kick of my life — it somehow went in. I hit the ground and everything else, along with the ball. There's a quote from that night where I told (Hall of Fame Mississippi Sportswriter) Rick Cleveland that God and coach Daniels had something to do with that one. 

"It was an amazing moment."


After the season, Byrd received an offer to attend Ouachita Baptist University, where he starred for the next two seasons on the football team.


A HALL OF FAME CAREER

Byrd didn't immediately get into coaching and instead started his career working for Wrigley's Gum in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Byrd worked for the company for two years as a sales representative before it was bought out and the sales force disbanded. 


Luckily for Byrd, an assistant soccer coach job had just opened at Pearl River, giving him an opportunity to head back home.

"I didn't even ask what it paid," Byrd said. "I could come back home and be with my family. I figured it was a win-win, so I took a leap of faith."


The leap of faith was just the beginning of what became a hall of fame career. Four months into the job as an assistant coach, Byrd was handed the reins of both the women's and men's programs ahead of the 2009 season. It didn't take long at all for him and his Wildcat teams to find their footing as the men's team picked up 10 victories, and his women's team wrapped up the season with an incredible 18-1-1 record and an MACCC title.


"It set the bar higher than I would have liked," Byrd said. "On the men's side, we won 10 games and had a really good season, but on the women's side, we were on another level. It had nothing to do with my coaching. It was just a great mixture of great players and big hearts."


Byrd was afforded the opportunity to focus solely on the women's side of things ahead of the 2010 season. The decision paid off for Byrd and the Wildcats as he and his teams went on to win South Division titles in 2009, '11 and '15, and MACCC titles in '09, '12, '14 and '15.


Byrd's 2012 team ended the year with a 12-3 record but didn't play a dominant brand of soccer. He credits their no-quit attitude to their success.

"We were average at best, but we had a team full of girls who just wanted it more than everyone else," he said. "We had that never-give-up attitude. We just kept fighting and winning."


The Wildcats spent a season away from the championship podium before returning to the pinnacle in 2014, but it certainly wasn't easy for the Wildcats. Although the team was as talented as any that he had coached, they were young and made mistakes. When the MACCC Tournament eventually rolled around, PRCC was matched up with a Jones team that was 18-0-1 and had already beaten the Wildcats twice on the season. The game plan was simple for Byrd — get to penalty kicks. 


"I knew we weren't as good as them, so I wanted to get to PKs," he said. "I had a keeper between the posts that I knew was a step ahead of Jones'. As time passed, I told the girls to kick it out of bounds. I think everyone in the stadium knew what I was doing. We eventually went on to penalties and beat them 4-2 to advance."

The very next day, PRCC took care of business against Hinds to secure the championship.


"I'm smiling just talking about that team," Byrd said. "I can't pick a favorite team, but that one is definitely near the top."


PRCC repeated as champions in 2015, boasting one of its most dominant teams in program history. The Wildcats finished 15-2.


Byrd remained at the helm of the program through the 2018 season, winning nine games in 2016and eight in both 2017 and 2018. He was tabbed the head coach at Mississippi University for Women ahead of the 2019 season. He ended his tenure at The River with an incredible 158-34-9 record while coaching three All-Americans (Emmaleigh Davis, Breanna Fortenberry and Lee). He will join four of his former players in the Pearl River Athletics Hall of Fame in Davis, Fortenberry, Lee and Hannah McCarty.


Byrd now resides in Hattiesburg and was recently named the head coach at Sacred Heart for the upcoming school year.


PREVIOUS INDUCTEES

Previous inductees planning to attend this year's banquet are encouraged to contact Mary Alice Chandler at mchandler@prcc.edu or 601-403-1193 to provide their jacket size. The deadline to submit jacket information is June 21, 2024.

Anyone who registers before the deadline can pick up their jacket at the 2024 ceremony.

Former inductees planning to attend the banquet are encouraged to wear their jackets.


SPONSORSHIP INFORMATION

Sponsorship packages are available for both the banquet and golf tournament.

To secure your sponsorship package or donate to the event, contact Chandler at mchandler@prcc.edu or 601-403-1193.


HOW TO NOMINATE

Know a former Wildcat who you believe should be considered in the future? Nominate by visiting: https://prccathletics.com/hof/Hall_of_Fame_nomination_form or visiting PRCCAthletics.com/HOF and clicking the nomination form link at the top of the page.


For the latest on Pearl River Community College athletics, follow us on X (@PRCCAthletics) and Facebook (PRCCAthletics).

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