Wingfield High opened in 1966 and had good football teams for the first several years. In fact, the Falcon program produced two NFL players, Jackie Slater and Vernon Perry, who graduated from the South Jackson school in the early1970s.
But since then, losing records have been the norm for the football program. There have only been a handful of winning seasons, for example when Mississippi State quarterback Sleepy Robinson played at Wingfield in the late 1980s, but they have been few and far in between.
Wingfield coach Joel Sinclair is determined to change that.
His team took a step in the right direction Friday night when Wingfield ended a 21-game losing streak with a 28-12 victory over Natchez at South Jackson Field. It ended the longest active public school streak in the state.
“It’s been a steady climb,” Sinclair said. “It’s about execution and getting better. I’ve been seeing it and I knew a win was going to happen soon. It was just a matter of time.”
Sinclair has seen plenty of losses. He first came to Wingfield in 2008 and was head coach for three seasons, going 0-11, 0-11 and 3-8. The Falcons broke a 24-game winning streak in 2010. Sinclair decided to step away from the program in 2011, but continued to teach his special education classes at Wingfield. In fact, Perry, the former Falcon and NFL player with the Houston Oilers, returned to his alma mater to coach for one season.
“I didn’t want to be around football. I just taught school and went straight home afterwards for that year. But after that year I wanted to get back out there and coach,” Sinclair said. “So I came back as offensive coordinator in 2012 under Jeff Gibson.”
Gibson and Sinclair went 0-11 in 2012, but broke a 31-game losing streak in 2013 and won three games. Two more 1-10 seasons resulted in 2014 and 2015 before Sinclair took over the program because Gibson had health issues. The Falcons had a 7-5 mark in 2016, Sinclair’s first year in his second stint as head coach, giving them their first winning season since 2006.
Wingfield fell on tough times again in 2017 going 2-9 and then 0-12 last season and losing its first five games before Friday night.
“It’s difficult to keep players out for football when you are losing, but you’ve got to find those players who are dedicated and are willing to sacrifice their time and want to work hard to get better,” said Sinclair, who has been rejoined by Gibson as an assistant coach for the past several years. “We have dealt with players migrating to other schools. We’ve played against many of our former players at other JPS schools over the years. We had only 13 players for summer workouts this year. We got some more come at atthe start of practice and school. We dressed out 27 Friday night.”
Sinclair was an All-State lineman at Crowley, La., and was looking at going to LSU, but the assistant coach who recruited him took a position at Michigan State and Sinclair followed him up there. He played at Michigan State in the mid-1990s. After he graduated, he came back to his alma mater to coach, then he moved to Mississippi where his brother was and worked for Zaxby’s for a while until one night changed his mind.
“It was watching high school football on tv one night and I got that itch to get back in it,” Sinclair said.
So he looked for a coaching position and Wingfield was looking for a coach. He’s enjoyed his teams at Wingfielddespite the losses.
“I like being around the kids and watching them improve themselves,” Sinclair said. “I hope I can be a positive influence on them and teach them not only about football, but also about life.”
For example, Sinclair is very proud of the young men like La’Andre Thonas. Thomas had a difficult childhood, jumping from house to house and being in poor living conditions for much of his young life until being adopted in the seventh grade. He got involved in sports and became one of the best players in Wingfield history. Thomas passed for 3,363 yards and 30 touchdowns and ran for 1,068 yards and 18 more TDs in that winning season in 2016. Thomas is now a redshirt sophomore defensive back for the University of Memphis and returned an interception for a touchdown Saturday.
“It is guys like La’Andre who make it worth all the time, effort and hard work I do,” Sinclair said. “He is quite a success story and I’m very proud of him.”
There may be another Thomas on this year’s team. Athletes like senior Tyrese Hall, juniors Tyree Williams and Desmond Torns play a number of positions for the Falcons. And then there is talented sophomore quarterback-cornerback Keuntay Littleton, who may be the next Thomas.
“We’ve got a good group of guys,” said Sinclair, who goes for his second straight win Friday at Brookhaven.“They’ve been working hard and they finally saw all their hard work result in a win Friday night. It was a happy locker room after the game. It was a long time coming. It will inspire them to win more games now.”