Thursday, January 16, 2020   
MSU to test Maroon Alert emergency messaging system Friday at noon
Mississippi State will conduct a routine test of its Maroon Alert emergency notification system Friday [Jan. 17] at noon. The testing will encompass notifications via Maroon Alert text messaging to mobile devices, as well as alerts on university desktops, digital signage, social media, university email accounts and MSU's emergency web page. "The university takes the responsibility of preparedness very seriously," said Regina Hyatt, vice president for student affairs who also serves as the university's emergency operation center director. "Testing our Maroon Alert system helps us to ensure that our emergency messaging tools are working as intended. The test also serves to exercise the professionals who are part of our Crisis Action Team as we discuss emergency procedures."
Oktibbeha Lake dam remains intact; overnight shelter opens in Starkville
As county officials were briefing law enforcement and reporters on the status of the Oktibbeha County Lake dam on Tuesday evening, American Red Cross employees were driving from Greenville to Starkville in order to open the First Baptist Church Outreach Center as an overnight shelter for potential evacuees. The warehouse on South Jackson Street is a Red Cross-designated lodging shelter that can house 400 displaced citizens overnight and about 200 on a long-term basis, volunteer Wanda Webb said. Recent storms have put the levee at the Oktibbeha County Lake Dam in "imminent" danger of breaching and flooding 17,500 acres of nearby land, which would force about 250 people to evacuate at least 130 households, from area immediately around the lake northwest of Starkville all the way to parts of southwest Clay County. District 3 Supervisor Marvell Howard told The Dispatch the levee status was "about the same" this morning.
Pressure building on rural north Mississippi dam
Authorities worked to lower the level of a rain-swollen lake in rural north Mississippi on Wednesday, hoping to avoid the failure of a dam amid forecasts of more rain. An inspection of the earthen dam in Oktibbeha County on Tuesday led to warnings that it was in danger of failing and recommendations that area residents evacuate. Rain remained a possibility in the area through Saturday, according to updated weather forecasts. "There are currently no signs of active water flowing through the dam at this time," William McKercher, chief of the state's dam safety division, said in an email interview. At least one resident told The Associated Press she wasn't going anywhere. "I've been here 30 years," Valeria Hogan, 70, said as she sat in a car on a dirt road, less than a mile from the dam. She said she's seen workers making repairs and she's confident it will hold. "Same lake, same arrangement. It's no problem."
JLL Closes Sale of 504-Unit Student Housing Community Serving Mississippi State University Students
JLL Capital Markets announced today that it has closed the sale of Lakeside Student Living, an award-winning, 504-bed, purpose-built student housing community serving students of Mississippi State University in Starkville. JLL marketed the portfolio exclusively on behalf of the seller to an undisclosed buyer. Lakeside Student Living is located at 1300 Old Highway 12 along a vast stretch of lakefront less than five miles southwest of campus. Completed in 2006, the community comprises a mix of studio, one-, two- and four-bedroom layouts averaging 1,068 square feet along with 505 parking spaces. The property is 98% occupied for the current semester.
Flooding concerns: Pearl River expected to rise to near-historic level this weekend
Officials on Wednesday said the Pearl River, swollen by a prolonged, heavy rainfall, is expected to crest this weekend to a level that hasn't been seen in years. They advised residents living on the river -- especially those who have experienced flooding before -- to make preparations as the river swells beyond its banks. The river on Saturday is expected to crest at more than 7 feet above its flood stage of 28 feet. The river was cresting at about 33 feet on Wednesday but the National Weather Service expects it to rise to 35.5 feet by Saturday. The magic number is 36.2 feet, or less than a foot from where the river is expected to crest, said Ricky Moore, the emergency management director for Hinds County. That's when overflow from the river will begin to inundate homes. The highest the river has ever gotten was during the historic Easter flood of 1979 when it crested at 43.28 feet. The flood is among the most costly and devastating floods ever to occur in Mississippi, resulting in up to $700 million in damages.
MDAC Conducting Agriculture Workforce Development Needs Assessment
Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce Andy Gipson and the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce is seeking input from the agriculture industry and agriculture-related job employers concerning workforce needs. Through its Agriculture Workforce Development Initiative, the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce is conducting a needs assessment survey designed to help better understand, develop and expand the largest workforce industry in Mississippi. A 2018 study by the National Strategic Planning and Analysis Research Center indicated 8,798 agriculture jobs were available for high school graduates, with an additional 1,529 agriculture jobs available for community college graduates. However, only 1,200 high school students graduate with agricultural training and only 105 community college students graduate with an agricultural degree in Mississippi. "The greatest investment we can make for Mississippi agriculture is in our young people, and we are making this a top priority," said Commissioner Gipson.
Mississippi could get piece of $20B rural broadband fund
Some 231,000 rural locations Mississippi could dip into a $20 billion pot for broadband access. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced this week initial estimates of how many homes and businesses in each state could benefit from Phase I of the $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. A total of about 6 million rural homes and businesses could be eligible for bidding in an auction slated for later this year to receive funding for high-speed broadband. Mississippi, according to the estimates, has the nation's sixth-most locations lacking broadband access, and the second-most in the Deep South. Several Mississippi rural electric cooperatives in recent months have voted to either study or roll out initiatives to provide broadband access to its customers. Brandon Presley, Mississippi's Northern District Public Service Commissioner, has championed the rural broadband cause, and has estimated that $500 million to $700 million may be available for Mississippi through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.
Four freshmen lawmakers say speaker wants them to give up retirement pay or resign
Four freshmen members of the Mississippi House -- retired public employees -- are hoping they can draw their state pension while serving in the Mississippi Legislature under a new regulation adopted by the Public Employees Retirement System Board. But House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, said it would be "double dipping" for the four freshmen legislators to serve in the Legislature and receive their retirement pay. But now Gunn is saying the action of PERS conflicts with existing state law and that he also opposes it because the legislators will be drawing two checks from the state -- one for their legislative pay and one for their retirement. "It is not right for taxpayers to have to fund both," said Gunn.
Rep. Scott Bounds keeps eye on local projects as session gets started
Rep. Scott Bounds will have his eye on several local projects as the 2020 session of the state Legislature got under way last Tuesday. "This year, we will be looking to get more funding for Marty Stuart's Congress of Country Music project," Bounds said. "We'll be working with MDOT and our Washington delegation to get the Highway 19 four-lane project under way, and to get money to complete it. We'll have more on that and other local road projects later in the session." But whatever gets done, Bounds promised to do his part to keep expenditures within the state's means. "A lot of times, it's not what you pass but what you keep from passing," Bounds said. "I am working on good state policy and as always, keeping our financial house in order. Both the governor and the lieutenant governor campaigned on raising teacher's salaries to the Southeastern average. That could be a chore to get done. We'll see if we have to means to do that this year but I think we will move in that direction. We all want well educated workforce."
Advocates lobby for More Early Learning Collaborative Funding
Education Advocates say Mississippi early childhood collaboratives are ranked 5th in the nation; an achievement they're talking about at the state capitol. There are only 18 statewide reaching eight percent of four year olds. Rachel Cantor is with the non-profit Mississippi First. "The data for children in our early learning collaboratives is fantastic, they out perform children in other types of Pre-K programs in the State of Mississippi. About 75 percent of kids in early learning collaboratives hit the cut score to be ready for kindergarten," said Cantor. But Cantor says more collaboratives are needed. On average she says one-third of Mississippi children aren't ready for kindergarten. Schools, private childcare centers and headstarts form the programs. The state allocated $6.5 million for early learning collaboratives at a cost of $4,300 per student. The state funds half and those who collaborate pay half.
Mississippi: Wide search for new leader of troubled prisons
Mississippi will conduct a nationwide search for a new commissioner to lead a state prison system that's reckoning with a recent outburst of deadly violence and longstanding problems with vacant jobs and damaged facilities. Republican Gov. Tate Reeves will hold a news conference Thursday afternoon to announce the group that will conduct the search. Reeves' spokeswoman, Renea Eze, said the group will be led by Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs, who is a former state lawmaker. Pelicia Hall had been commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Corrections since 2017. She announced Dec. 31 that she would leave the job in mid-January, which coincides with the transition from former Republican Gov. Phil Bryant to Reeves. More than two dozen inmates sued the state Tuesday, saying understaffed prisons are "plagued by violence" and inmates are forced to live in decrepit and dangerous conditions. All of the plaintiffs have been inmates in the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman.
Amid festering crisis, Tate Reeves confronted with embattled and leaderless prison system
Eight years ago, former Gov. Haley Barbour left Gov.-elect Phil Bryant with a mess of national proportion: Barbour freed more than 200 Mississippi inmates, some of whom were serving sentences for murder, through the use of gubernatorial clemency just days before he left office. Bryant did his best to distance himself from the scandal that reached newspapers across the nation, but later vowed to never issue pardons himself and talked of the Legislature limiting future governors' pardon powers. Barbour's parting decision overshadowed Bryant's inauguration day as reporters overloaded Bryant's communications staff with interview requests about the pardons. Privately, Bryant fumed, several people close to the former governor said. Eight years later, Bryant leaves his successor Gov. Tate Reeves in a similar corrections-related crisis on the new governor's first day in office.
Life in a Troubled Mississippi Prison, Captured on Smuggled Phones
The cellphone rang once before someone picked up. On the other end was an inmate inside Unit 29 of the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman. "Hello," he said. Then, in a steady voice that competed against a cacophony of rowdy conversations and a fuzzy signal, he urgently described to a complete stranger the turmoil he said existed on the inside. Then the line suddenly fell silent. When the inmate returned a moment later, he explained that an officer had walked past and that he had needed to quickly stash his phone. He had paid $600 for the smartphone -- contraband in prisons nationwide. If caught with it, years could be tacked onto his already lengthy sentence. Parchman, the oldest prison in Mississippi, with a notorious reputation for harsh conditions, has descended into dilapidation and chaos, including a recent burst of violence that left several inmates dead. Inmates have used illegal cellphones to capture and transmit images -- inmates fighting, broken toilets, holes in prison walls, dangling wires and dead rodents caught in sticky traps -- that have come to define the crisis in Mississippi.
Mississippi leaders praise President Trump's signing of trade deal with China
On Wednesday, President Trump signed "phase one" of a trade agreement with China, and Mississippi leaders are applauding the deal, which they say, will open China's market to more American products. As part of the new agreement, China has pledged to increase imports of American goods and services by at least $200 billion, including between $40 and $50 billion in American agricultural goods each year for two years. President Trump has stated that additional phases will complete the trade agreement, and Senator Roger Wicker says that this is a good start. "The first phase of President Trump's trade deal with China is a big step forward for commerce between our nations. Our farmers can expect fewer barriers to exports, and our businesses have won important protections for their intellectual property. I hope we can continue to build on this progress," Wicker said. In a tweet, Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith said that the deal shows "significant progress is made in correcting the historic US-China trade imbalance." Congressmen Steven Palazzo and Trent Kelly echoed Hyde-Smith's sentiments on the signing of the deal.
White House broke law by withholding Ukraine aid, GAO says
The White House budget office violated federal law when it withheld funds that Congress had appropriated to provide security assistance for Ukraine, a nonpartisan government watchdog has concluded. The Government Accountability Office said in a report released Thursday that the White House Office of Management and Budget did not have the authority to withhold the money under the federal Impoundment Control Act, which governs Congress' role in the budget process. "Faithful execution of the law does not permit the president to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law," the report concluded. "OMB withheld funds for a policy reason, which is not permitted" under the law. The White House's decision to withhold the money was at the heart of a congressional inquiry that triggered the impeachment of President Donald Trump. The White House disputed the watchdog group's findings.
Warren-Sanders audio leaks: 'I think you called me a liar on national TV'
Immediately after the debate Tuesday night, Sen. Elizabeth Warren confronted Sen. Bernie Sanders over their dueling accounts on whether he told her that he didn't believe a woman could defeat President Donald Trump during a private meeting in late 2018. "I think you called me a liar on national TV," Warren told Sanders on stage after they both offered perfunctory "good job" greetings to other rivals, according to audio captured by CNN, which co-hosted the debate with the Des Moines Register. The extraordinary exchange is a rare insight into how tense the relationship between the two progressive senators -- who have long considered each other friends and comrades in a broader fight for the Democratic Party's future -- has become over the course of the presidential race.
Lawmakers press Trump officials to change federal marijuana rules
House lawmakers are growing increasingly frustrated with restrictions on federal marijuana research and are putting pressure on regulators to change the rules. While 33 states have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes, federal research is extremely restricted. During a House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee hearing Wednesday, bipartisan lawmakers pressed officials from the Food and Drug Administration, Drug Enforcement Administration and National Institute on Drug Abuse about obstacles to studying the safety and effectiveness of cannabis products, including hemp-based cannabidiol. Researchers need approval from three separate agencies, which can sometimes take upwards of a year. Once approved, they're only allowed to research cannabis grown by a government-authorized farm at the University of Mississippi.
IHL board postpones vote to relocate Confederate monument on UM campus
The Board of Trustees for the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning pulled an item from the agenda that would have considered relocating the University of Mississippi's Confederate monument at its monthly board meeting on Tuesday morning. Board member Tom Duff said he would like to hear a full report from the university regarding its plans for contextualization and replacing makers in the University Cemetery before voting on the item. The item was tabled. Commissioned by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the 29-foot monument has stood at the center of Ole Miss' campus since 1906. The Mississippi Military Memorial Protection Act prohibits the relocation, removal or alteration of monuments commemorating military figures, including Confederate soldiers. However, the statue may be moved to a "more suitable location" on campus deemed "more appropriate to displaying the monument" with IHL's approval.
Will it move? No decision from IHL on fate of Confederate statue on Ole Miss campus
The fate of the Confederate statue on the University of Mississippi's campus has yet to be decided. At its January board meeting Thursday morning, the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning pulled the item from the agenda. IHL board member Tom Duff said he "would like to get a full report from the university on the progress made before implementing all of the recommendations they included in the contextualization report, things like replacing of the markers in the cemetery. "Given this is an important matter, I would like to receive the full report before we vote on such, thus I will pull this item from the agenda today," Duff said. If eventually approved, the statue would move from its current location near the university's administration building to the cemetery located on campus. The statue was erected in 1906, over 40 years after the end of the Civil War.
College board delays vote on Ole Miss Confederate monument
The state college board has delayed a vote on the University of Mississippi's plan to move a Confederate monument away from a central spot on the Oxford campus. Trustees with the Institutions of Higher Learning asked for a full report. The proposed site is a Confederate cemetery that's still on campus but is off the beaten path. Board members want to know how the move will affect the cemetery. Ole Miss has tried for a generation to distance itself from Old South images. In March, student government leaders asked for the university to move the Confederate monument.
Joe Max Higgins appointed to East Mississippi Community College board
Joe Max Higgins, chief executive officer for the Golden Triangle Development LINK, will soon serve the area in an additional role. On Wednesday, Lowndes County supervisors unanimously appointed Higgins to the Board of Trustees for East Mississippi Community College. The appointment came several months after the opening of Communiversity, a $42 million workforce training facility for EMCC that the Higgins-led LINK helped develop on Highway 82 in Lowndes County. The seat on the board was vacated by former county appointee Lance Walters, who resigned from the position in December to move to Brazil for a new job. Higgins was the only applicant for the board seat, said Lowndes County Administrator Ralph Billingsley. He will finish Walters' tenure, which lasts through March 2023. EMCC has been laden with financial woes over the past decade as its operating fund balance dropped by more than $10 million primarily due to high athletic spending and declining enrollment.
USM's Cochran Center to host annual MLK prayer breakfast
The University of Southern Mississippi is preparing to host an annual event honoring the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. An ecumenical and interracial prayer breakfast at the Thad Cochran Center is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 20 at 7 a.m. The 14th annual event is presented by the Mu Xi and the Mu Gamma Lambda chapters of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. and it's free and open to the public. "We will recognize five community leaders or those that have contributed significantly to the quality of life of our residents, as well as five high school seniors that have excelled academically, and award them book scholarships," said Eddie Holloway, program coordinator. "Last year, there were 553 attendees, all of which participated, had a bountiful breakfast, and listened to speakers, entertainers, as well as enjoyed the fellowship of all those who came out," Holloway said. A keynote address will be given by Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Randolph.
Millsaps professor recognized with Humanities Teacher Award
Dr. David Davis, associate professor of history at Millsaps College, has been recognized by the Mississippi Humanities Council with its annual Humanities Teacher Award. Davis joined the Millsaps faculty in 1988 after four years as a visiting assistant professor at Brown University. He earned a B.A. in history and biblical studies from William Carey University, an M.A. in history from Baylor, and a Ph.D. in African history from Northwestern University. Davis has served in a variety of roles at Millsaps, including associate dean of arts & humanities, interim vice president for academic affairs and dean of the College, director for self-designed majors, and in several other administrative capacities.
U. of Florida faculty under scrutiny in grant money foreign influence scandal
Four University of Florida faculty members have either resigned or been fired after investigations suggested they may have had undisclosed connections to foreign entities, which goes against rules that govern hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of research grant money. The National Institutes of Health, which in 2019 provided UF with more than $208 million in grant money, first reached out to universities across the nation in August 2018 with a letter that expressed concerns about foreign entities trying to influence U.S. research, UF spokesman Steve Orlando said in an email. The letter did not mention any particular universities. In another letter, the NIH identified two faculty members at UF who may have been connected. About 60 other universities received letters from the NIH regarding specific faculty members, Orlando said. Through UF's own assessments, two additional faculty members raised concerns.
Bill would cut Georgia's dual enrollment cost by limiting credit hours
For a second year, Gov. Brian Kemp, through his legislative leaders, has pitched a plan aimed at cutting costs and streamlining Georgia's dual enrollment program. House Bill 444, rewritten this week after a prior version introduced last year was put on hold, would restrict students to a total of 30 college credit hours, and would limit the program to only 11th and 12th grade students, with few exceptions. Students who want to take additional courses after reaching the 30 credit hour limit would pay for the classes themselves. Officials said dual enrollment students take an average of 17 credit hours. Currently, they can take up to 15 credit hours a semester. Since its beginning almost three decades ago, it has been touted as a way to give high school students an early start on college and save parents money. As enrollment has increased, so, too, have costs.
Student appeals in U. of Arkansas, Fayetteville sex case
A student found responsible for sexual misconduct by the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville was wrongly denied proper notice of the allegations against him, the student's attorney told judges Wednesday during oral arguments before the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The arguments took place in St. Louis as part of an appeal, seeking to reinstate a lawsuit filed in September 2018 by "John Doe" against the university. "Doe" claimed in the lawsuit that the school violated Title IX and his due process rights, but U.S. District Judge P.K. Holmes III last April dismissed the suit. Heather Zachary, an attorney for "Doe," said a "deeply flawed and discriminatory process" led to "Doe" being found responsible for sexual misconduct by a disciplinary panel that, after an appeal, reversed an initial finding by the university's Title IX coordinator.
'Totally empty': Fraternity brothers reflect on suspension
When Auburn University ruled that Beta Theta Pi, a fraternity on campus, violated its anti-hazing policy and would be suspended from campus, Beta fraternity brothers were shocked. For those living in the house on Lem Morrison Drive, they had less than two months to find new housing. "When it started happening, people were kind of getting their things out," said Trae Anderson, senior in nursing. "The vibe in the house started to change. It's a little bit more gloomy." The house's bedrooms were slowly stripped bare of personal belongings. For some residents, this had been their home for over half of their college career. Beta Theta Pi was suspended for violations involving "physical abuse," servitude and alcohol, according to letters obtained by The Plainsman that were addressed to past and present Beta Theta Pi members.
U. of Missouri to sever ties to Confucius Institute
The University of Missouri will cancel its contract with the Confucius Institute, a relationship that has been targeted by U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, because of expensive new requirements for additional personnel in language classes offered by Columbia Public Schools. The contract will end in August, six months before it was otherwise scheduled to end, according to a news release issued Wednesday by MU. "We were notified by the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs this past July that due to changes in State Department guidance, we would now be required to have a certified Mandarin Chinese language teacher in every classroom with a Confucius Institute staff member," Mary Stegmaier, interim vice provost for international programs, said in the release. "While Missouri-certified teachers were in the classroom with the CI staff, recruiting and supporting the necessary certified Chinese language teachers would be cost prohibitive."
National Science Board report finds U.S. dominance in science is slipping
The U.S. share of global science and technology activity has shrunk in some areas even as absolute activity has continued to grow, as China and other Asian countries have invested in science and engineering education and increased their research spending. That's one of the main takeaways of the "State of U.S. Science and Engineering" 2020 report, published by the National Science Board Wednesday. The report has historically been published every other year, but starting with this year's edition, the NSB is transitioning its format from a single report published every two years to a series of shorter reports issued more frequently. When it comes to the number of science and engineering degrees awarded, China has caught up quickly, and on some measures it outperforms the U.S.
NSF rolls out huge makeover of science statistics
The National Science Foundation's cornucopia of statistics on the global scientific enterprise came out today -- but with a twist that makes it more timely. In a world awash with on-demand data, NSF realized that its biennial report, titled Science and Engineering Indicators, was an anachronism. So instead of pushing out all 2000-plus pages at the same time, NSF last fall began releasing chapters on science and math education, higher education, the technical workforce, and scientific publications. Four more chapters -- reporting global spending patterns, academic research, trade and industry, knowledge transfer, and public attitudes -- will follow in the next few months. Today's release of a brief summary lets NSF satisfy a federal mandate to deliver a biennial report to Congress.
2019 Was The 2nd-Hottest Year On Record, According To NASA And NOAA
Last year was the second hottest on record globally, according to the latest climate data collected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA. It's the latest confirmation that the Earth is steadily getting hotter -- the planet has already warmed about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit compared with in the mid-20th century --- and that robust greenhouse gas emissions are causing global warming to continue unabated. "The fact is that the planet is warming, and every year, we add one extra data point to this graph," says Gavin Schmidt, the director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Ranking years based on their average temperature might grab headlines, he notes, but "the main thing here is not really the ranking, but is the consistency of the long-term trends that we're seeing." That trend goes back decades, with each decade warmer than the one before it. And that will likely continue in the 2020s.
IRS provides tax relief for those with discharged student loans
The IRS and Treasury Department on Wednesday released guidance that will allow more people with discharged student loans to receive tax relief. Under the guidance, certain taxpayers with discharged student loans will not have to report the amount of the loan as gross income on their federal tax returns. The guidance applies to taxpayers whose federal loans were discharged by the Department of Education because they were attending a school that closed or because they established that "a school's actions would give rise to a cause of action against the school under applicable state law," the IRS said. The guidance also applies to taxpayers whose private loans were discharged as a result of legal settlements against colleges and certain private lenders. The guidance is effective for loans discharged in 2016 and later.
Report: Universities Must Cultivate Race-Conscious Policies to Address Historical Inequities
Higher education institutions' historically racist admission policies have led to underrepresentation of Black and Latino students and the only way colleges and universities can remedy that is through race-conscious policies, says a report published Wednesday by The Education Trust. By design, race-conscious policies will increase higher education access and provide much-needed support to students of color, the report adds. The report, "Hard Truths: Why Only Race-Conscious Policies Can Fix Racism in Higher Education," urges education equity advocates to proactively work for change. It also provides guidelines and tools to empower minority students in an atmosphere where racial inequalities have grown due to the elimination of race-conscious policies. The report offers race-conscious policy recommendations for higher education institutions. Among them are strengthening K–12, renewing commitment to affirmative action, making data on college opportunity and outcomes public and having states design race-conscious attainment goals and strategies.
Lack of funding is choking state-run parks system
Mississippi newspaper publisher and columnist Wyatt Emmerich writes: Mississippi has a lot of wonderful people. One of them is Sam Polles, 27-year executive director of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. Like most Mississippians, providence birthed Dr. Polles in Clarksdale, where his family had been in the restaurant business for 60 years. He grew up working in the family business and was graduated from Clarksdale High School, then attended Delta State and Mississippi State. His father encouraged him to pursue his education and young Sam ended up with a doctorate from Mississippi State. He moved to Georgia where he worked with the University of Georgia in agricultural research for seven years then returned to Stoneville, Mississippi, to continue his research at the federal research facility there. An opportunity opened up to manage a private company involved in pecan orchards, nurseries, hunting leases and oil and gas. He eventually took an ownership position, which led to an eventual sale and a return to ag consulting. Along the way he and his wife of 48 years, Mary Margaret Humber Polles, raised three sons and now have six grandsons. In 1992, Gov. Kirk Fordice hired him to his current position as executive director of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, which is how I came to be sitting in his conference room last week.

No. 10 Mississippi State hosts LSU in women's hoops
No. 10 Mississippi State is coming off an open date but still has an obstacle in its way before facing top-ranked South Carolina on Monday. The Bulldogs (15-2, 3-0 SEC) have a home date scheduled with LSU tonight at 7 on the SEC Network and are in search of their seventh-straight win over the Tigers. "We've had an extra day of prep and I would be really disappointed if we're not locked in on LSU," said MSU coach Vic Schaefer. Jordan Danberry (14.1), Rickea Jackson (13.5) and Jessika Carter (13.0) are all scoring in double figures for the Bulldogs this season. LSU (13-3, 3-1 SEC) upset then No. 10 Texas A&M on the road last week 57-54 and is coming off a 52-44 home victory over Ole Miss on Sunday.
Lady Tigers face biggest test of season at Mississippi State
LSU coach Nikki Fargas' attitude about rough stretches in SEC play is that the league is one, long, 16-game rough stretch. Her Tigers are entering the heart of it beginning Thursday when they take on No. 9 Mississippi State in Starkville at 7 p.m. LSU (13-3, 3-1 in SEC) is off to its best conference start in three years but the Bulldogs (15-2, 3-0) are a team that levels out good starts. They still play a high-pressure, full-court defense and still have imposing presences inside. Teaira McCowan, the 6-feet-7 All American, has moved on to the WNBA but 6-5 sophomore Jessika Carter and 6-2 freshman Rickea Jackson have combined for 26.5 points and 14.5 rebounds per game. But the trouble with Mississippi State starts in the backcourt with Jordan Danberry, the leading scorer at 14.1 per game and the leading troublemaker. Completing the challenge are outside gunners Chloe Bibby and Andra Espinoza Hunter, who have combined to hit 47 3-point shots to give the Bulldogs a plethora of options.
Xaria Wiggins and Chloe Bibby finding stride, Myah Taylor continuing development, schedule intensifying
Mississippi State sophomore guard Xaria Wiggins is finding her place. Having lost three starters from last season's Elite Eight team, coach Vic Schaefer has struggled to find a coherent rotation in the early going this year. But now riding a 3-0 start to SEC play, Wiggins' ability to provide instant offense off the bench coupled with a lanky 6-foot-1 frame that can match anywhere from a point guard to a power forward defensively has given the eighth-year head coach an added weapon in his arsenal. Working mostly as a three-and-D option, Wiggins has come on strong of late. She notched season-high 13 points on 4-of-6 shooting in last week's win at Georgia, marking her first double-digit scoring output of the year, and she's now knocking down 3-pointers at a 39.1 percent clip. Beyond Wiggins, the Bulldogs have also received an added offensive boost from junior forward Chloe Bibby.
Kylin Hill, Erroll Thompson returning to Mississippi State for senior seasons
The good times continue to roll in the early days of the Mike Leach era. Just days after Leach was formally introduced as the 34th head coach in Mississippi State history, the former Washington State coach received news Wednesday that junior running back Kylin Hill and linebacker Erroll Thompson will return for their senior seasons. Both players released statements over Twitter to declare their intentions. Hill had previously declared for the NFL Draft but will now help anchor an MSU offense adopting a new identity. After leading the Southeastern Conference in rushing in 2019, the Columbus native figures to be a receiving threat out of the backfield in Leach's new-look air raid attack. As for Thompson, a source with immediate knowledge of the situation told The Dispatch Jan. 3 he was leaning toward entering the draft in the wake of Joe Moorhead's firing. Instead, Thompson will anchor the middle of the MSU defense after finishing the 2019 season with 84 tackles -- including 3.5 fort a loss. He also served as a team captain last year.
Kylin Hill, Erroll Thompson returning to Mississippi State
Mississippi State instantly got better on both sides of the ball on Wednesday when running back Kylin Hill and linebacker Erroll Thompson announced they were returning for their senior years. Hill was the SEC's third-leading rusher this past season while Thompson was the Bulldogs' leading tackler. Hill initially declared for the NFL Draft on Dec. 12 but never signed with an agent, leaving a window open for him to return to school. "When I stepped off the field after the final game of the season last month, I thought it was my last time in maroon and white," Hill said. "After careful consideration, I've decided to return to Mississippi State for my senior season. I'm thankful and blessed for these last three years, but I'm also excited for the opportunity to play my final season in the coach (Mike) Leach era of Mississippi State football and continue the pursuit of my degree. There's some unfinished business to take care of with my brothers."
Mississippi State running back Kylin Hill set to return for senior season
Kylin Hill has made up his mind -- again. Just over a month ago, Hill released a statement via Twitter that he had decided to forgo his senior season at Mississippi State to enter the 2020 NFL Draft. On Wednesday, Hill changed direction. The running back from Columbus has decided to play a fourth season in maroon and white after all. Hill again went public with his announcement via a prepared statement posted to Twitter. "Mississippi State University means so much to me," Hill wrote. "When I stepped off the field after the final game of the season last month, I thought it was my last time in maroon and white. After careful consideration, I've decided to return to Mississippi State for my senior season." Hill had one of the best seasons for a Mississippi State running back in program history in 2019. The junior ran 242 times for 1,350 yards and 10 touchdowns. He ranks No. 9 in MSU history with 2,477 rushing yards.
Mississippi State linebacker Leo Lewis added to NFLPA Collegiate Bowl roster
Mississippi State linebacker Leo Lewis has been added to the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl roster. Lewis joins Bulldog teammates Jaquarius Landrews, Stephen Guidry and Chauncey Rivers in Pasadena, California this week. The game is scheduled for Saturday in Rose Bowl Stadium at 6 p.m. and televised on NFL Network. Lewis started 48 of 51 career games and totaled 235 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, three sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. The 6-foot-2, 245-pounder from Brookhaven made 65 stops as a senior including 5.5 for loss, one sack, two pass deflections, one forced fumble and two recoveries.
EMCC women's basketball coach off and running as school's new AD
Sharon Thompson is scared to look at her Facebook page. Since being named the new athletic director at East Mississippi Community College on Monday, she said the abundant response has been overwhelming, from social media comments to personal notes. "It's bananas," said Thompson, EMCC's women's basketball coach. "I don't know if I've even had time to gather my thoughts. I'll lay my phone down for about 30 minutes, go back, and I'll have 50 text messages." The announcement came quickly, and Thompson has hit the ground running since. Former AD Mickey Stokes of 34 years announced his decision on Jan. 3 to resign and become dean of operations at Coastal Alabama Community College, officially leaving the position on Jan. 10. East Mississippi school president Dr. Scott Alsobrooks gave Thompson the job three days later in the midst of an 11-2 season with the Lady Lions basketball squad. On Wednesday, she was in Jackson for meetings with other athletic directors, leaving for the state capital at 6:30 a.m. from Scooba and returning to campus nine and a half hours later.
Aaron Pelch steps down as Millsaps football coach to become AD
After leading Millsaps College's football team for 10 seasons as head coach, Aaron Pelch is stepping down to become the school's director of athletics. The school announced in a release that a national search for a new football coach will begin immediately. Pelch has served as interim director of athletics since December 2018. In a release, Millsaps president Robert W. Pearigen said Pelch's new duties will include strategic planning, policy development and fundraising, among others. Pelch joined Millsaps as head football coach prior to the 2010 season and compiled a 49-50 record in his 10 seasons. He was named Southern Athletic Association Coach of the Year in 2012 and 2013 as he guided the Majors to a pair of conference championships. The 2013 season, when Millsaps went 9-1, was its last winning season. The Majors finished 5-5 each of the past two years.
LSU working with NCAA, SEC to sort out Odell Beckham Jr. money controversy
The LSU athletic department said Wednesday afternoon it is working with the NCAA and the Southeastern Conference over the controversy involving former LSU star Odell Beckham Jr., who may have been handing out cash to players after the national championship game. At first, an LSU athletic official told The Advocate the bills Beckham handed out weren't real. There were novelty bills found on the field during the postgame celebration, and the school said later Tuesday evening it was unclear whether those were the same bills Beckham was handing out. "Initial information suggested bills that were exchanged were novelty bills," LSU said in a statement. "Information and footage reviewed since shows apparent cash may have also been given to LSU student-athletes." The statement is the most recent development in the controversy that began moments after LSU's 42-25 win over Clemson in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game.
Tennessee athletics operates at $790K surplus in FY19 after cutting severance costs
Tennessee's athletic department got back in the black. The Vols operated at a $789,730 surplus for the 2019 fiscal year that ended June 30, according to UT's annual revenue and expense report. Universities were required to submit their annual fiscal reports to the NCAA by Wednesday. The surplus comes after Tennessee operated at a $6.5 million deficit during the 2018 fiscal year, when it was weighed down by the burden of buyouts for Butch Jones and his staff and a severance to former athletic director John Currie. Tennessee's surplus pales in comparison recent years. Tennessee operated at a $10.8 million surplus in the 2017 fiscal year after a $12.4 million surplus in 2016 and $13.2 million surplus in 2015. Tennessee reported $873,806 in severance payments, the majority of which stemmed from women's basketball coach Holly Warlick's firing in March. That's down from the $13.8 million in severance for the previous fiscal year.
U.S. Antitrust Chief Signals Skepticism of NCAA in Athlete Pay Fight
The National Collegiate Athletic Association is facing an additional source of pressure as it considers lifting some restrictions on the payment of college athletes, this time from within the Trump administration. Justice Department antitrust chief Makan Delrahim, in an interview this week with The Wall Street Journal, voiced concerns about how the NCAA has placed compensation limits on student athletes and said his antitrust division is following the group's deliberations over potentially allowing some forms of payment. "We're taking a close look," Mr. Delrahim said. "We've let them know of our interest." Last fall brought a series of seismic developments around the compensation issue. California state legislators unanimously passed a bill in September to allow their athletes to earn endorsement money starting in 2023, specifically by barring schools in the state from enforcing NCAA rules that prohibited athletes from benefiting financially from their names, likenesses and images.

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