Photo by Brandon Jackson

By Robert Wilson

       Durwin Carpenter, 72 years young and in his 50th season as a head coach, is getting within range.

       The longtime Pillow Academy girls basketball coach has now won 1,160 games in his career and is only 89 games away from tying Mississippi record holder Doyle Wolverton, who won 1,249 games from 1975-2014 at Leake Academy.

         Carpenter not only is the winningest active coach in Mississippi, but he is also the third winningest in the country. Carpenter trails only Lamar Rogers of Clarkrange, Tenn., who has won 1,307 games entering this season and started in 1976 and Rhona Fairley of Georgetown, Texas, who has won 1,257 games entering this season and started in 1975 among active coaches.

       Carpenter – who has four grandchildren (two in Greenwood and two in Destin, Fla.) – has won 803 games in his 30th season at Pillow and won 357 games in 20 seasons at Central Holmes Academy. The Grenada Rundle High, Holmes Community College and Delta State alumnus has won four MAIS Overall championships and 10 state titles.

       Pillow named the court after Carpenter several years ago.

         “I’m excited about this group we have this year,” said Carpenter, whose assistant Mignon Hodges, has been by his side from 2000-2008 and from 2013-present. “We have four starters back from last year (senior sisters Avery Howard and Elise Howard, senior Lola Harris and junior Alanna Hodo). I’ve never really thought about Doyle’s record. I just want to win the next game for the girls. I still enjoy coaching. My granddaughter (Lyla Gary), who is in the second grade here at Pillow, wants me to coach her so I’m going to try to hang around and coach her. That’s my goal.”

         “I’ve known Coach Carpenter in a variety of ways,” said Barrett Donahoe, who is in his fourth year as Pillow’s head of school. “I was on the Pillow football staff when we won a state championship in 2011. I was athletic director at Heritage Academy from 2012-2016 and worked with Coach Carpenter on conference scheduling. And then as a head of school, I got to see Coach Carpenter on a daily basis and how he handles his program. It is a well-oiled machine. He understands the game and what it takes to win at a high level. Coach Carpenter has been a big influence on me and it’s a privilege to work with him.”

       Despite coaching for five decades and being a grandfather, Carpenter still can relate and has the respect of his players who are 60 years younger than him.

“I’ve seen him interact with them off the court, in the lunchroom and in the hallway,” Donahoe said. “The girls respond to him and respect him. His teams are always well prepared. They play tough and physical. He knows how to adapt and adjust over the years. Coach Carpenter has a genuine care and love for his players, no matter what the generation he is coaching. He is passionate on the court and very caring person. His care and love offset any gap in age.”

Photo by Brandon Jackson

Jackson Academy coach Jan Sojourner, who is in her 44th season as a head coach, might have played Carpenter more times than any other coach. She trails Wolverton and Carpenter with 1,020 career victories. Sojourner has 918 wins with a MAIS record six Overall titles and 10 state titles in 39 seasons at JA.

 “It is a privilege, honor and joy to coach against Durwin,” Sojourner said. “You are going to have prepare every time you play his girls. He is so consistent with what he does. Durwin always gets his girls to play so hard with such unbelievable effort. They are really aggressive and never take a play off. It’s so neat that his program is so solid. You are going to get a team that pressures the basketball, plays great defense, knocks down 3s and does a good job of running their offense. We have had some great battles with each other, many times when the stakes were very high.”

Pillow has gotten off to a 6-0 start and the tradition-rich and proud program is itching to get back to winning at the Overall Tournament, something the Lady Mustangs haven’t done since they won the Overall championship in 2020. Pillow lost to Jackson Academy in the first round in 2021, didn’t make the Overall in 2022 and lost to eventual champion Madison-Ridgeland Academy in the first-round last season.

Pillow’s next test is Tuesday at Class 5A rival Leake Academy. The Lady Rebels are off to a 5-0 start and are tough to beat at home. Leake has won 72 of its last 73 home games – Simpson Academy broke its 70-game home winning streak Jan. 24, 2023. Leake finished 36-7 and reached the Overall semifinals last season.

“Coach Carpenter is definitely one of the best,” said Leake coach Amanda Hatch, who has a 325-39 record – an amazing 89.3 percent winning percentage – in her 10th season at Leake and has 440 career wins in her 15th season as a head coach. Hatch has led Leake to four Overall finals in the past six seasons, winning in 2021.

“Not only one of the best coaches, which is evident every time you see his team play, but he’s also one of the best people around, as I’ve truly enjoyed getting to know him over the years. It’s always a tough game when you play or coach against Pillow, and it’s always an honor to be on the same court with him.”