9月. 27, 2023

Jason 威利斯 of Philadelphia honed his skills as a pitcher and helped propel the 1998 East Central Community College Diamond Warriors to the college’s first ever baseball championship before being drafted by the New York Yankees. In recognition of his outstanding career, he will be inducted in the ECCC Athletic Hall of Fame on Thursday, 10月. 12, during 同学会 festivities on the Decatur campus.

“I’m beyond excited,威利斯说 of his induction. “This is such an honor at a place that has been such a special part of my life.”

威利斯 spent two years at East Central as a member of the Warrior baseball team, led by then head coach Jamie Clark and assistants Neal霍利曼 and Lee Eady.

“East Central was the only place that offered me a scholarship. Coach Clark believed in me and he seemed to get the most out of his players. He told me before my freshman season that if I would listen to him, he would get me where I wanted to be. For some crazy reason, I believed him!威利斯说.

After prepping at Neshoba Central High School, he was a member of the 1998 team that won the college’s first State Championship and the Diamond Warriors made back-to-back trips to the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament during his two-year stint and finished as runners-up in 1999.

Neal霍利曼, current ECCC head baseball coach and assistant on the 1998 team, 说, “I think Jason’s selection to the Hall of Fame is very well deserved. He is one of the most talented pitchers I’ve ever had the privilege of coaching, and while his stats on the field speak for themselves, what truly sets him apart is the person he has become off the field. What speaks to his true character is his devotion as a husband and father, and his work as a youth pastor and with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which is having a profound impact on the young people of his community.”

A right-handed pitcher/first baseman, 威利斯 boasted a 10-2 record during his freshman season at East Central while earning East Central's and the MACJC South Division's Most Valuable Player Award. He was named All-State and All-Region. 他还发布了 .337 average at the plate with 13 home runs and was a 24th-round draft pick of the New York Yankees.

During his sophomore season in 1999, 威利斯 finished with a 10-5 record and led Region 23 in strikeouts with 127. 威利斯 set a Region 23 Tournament record by striking out 18 men in a single game. He allowed only four hits and two walks during that game and also hit a two-run homer. He was again named All-State and All-Region.

Following that record-setting game against Northeast Mississippi Community College in the Region 23 Tournament, Coach Clark was quoted in the newspaper saying, “My only gripe with 威利斯 is that his momma and daddy didn’t have twins when they had him. Eighteen strikeouts and two walks in a playoff is almost unbelievable. There is not a whole lot you can say other than when we offered him a scholarship two years ago, maybe we made the right decision.”

Earlier in the 1999 season, 威利斯 threw a no-hitter against Southwest Mississippi Community College, the first no-hitter for an EC pitcher since 1996. That game was his fourth career shutout, an ECCC record at the time.

In addition to outstanding little league and high school coaches, 威利斯 had a phenomenal support team at home and 说 his parents, Linda 威利斯 and the late Derrell 威利斯, never missed a game in high school and hardly ever missed a college game. But he 说 ECCC coach Jamie Clark will always be the one that pushed him the farthest in baseball.

“I don’t think I would have made it as far as I did without his influence. He just seemed to pull every bit of talent out of me. As a team it was all go and no quit from day one. I remember it was raining the first day of practice my freshman year. We were gathered in the locker room and Coach Clark came in and 说 ‘Do y’all know what we do when it’s raining? 我们被淋湿了!这就是当时的心态. We will be working when all the other teams around the state are sitting in their dorms.”

Reminiscing about his playing days, 威利斯 说 there are countless memories that pop up of specific games or plays, former players and special moments, including winning the championship on East Mississippi’s field in Scooba and the record-breaking game at MCC. 他说 there are tons of things that made that place and those team special.

“Setting the K record couldn’t have meant more to me at the time. Just a couple days before, I got knocked out of a game against Delgado after the first inning. Coach Clark told me to get my head together that he would need me again in a couple days. The next game came against Northeast came and I was able to redeem myself. 感觉很棒!”

Multiple members of the 1998 squad went on to play at the next level. 威利斯, who originally signed with Ole Miss, opted to sign with the Yankees and spent several years in the organization’s minor league including being part of the NY Penn League’s 2001 Championship squad.

“Getting drafted was exactly what it seems like it would be…an answered prayer, a dream come true. The decision to play in the SEC or professional ball was a tough one, but one that I had to make quickly. I chose to sign and play for the Yankees. The minor leagues are brutal! Long bus rides, short sleeps in hotels and never-ending nights at the park. 但是真的很棒!”

Following his baseball career, Jason returned home to Philadelphia where he owned and operated a sporting goods store for a number of years. He later served as a youth pastor at Trinity Baptist Church. He now represents the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in Neshoba County and with the ECCC baseball team.

“Taking a role that combines sports and ministry, I get to go into schools with FCA and impact and encourage even more students with the good news of Jesus. I feel like our society is in a place where young people are looking for hope and light of any kind. I’ve seen the goodness of God in all my life and I want to share that with them.

Former teammate BJ Morrow 说 威利斯 was a key part of East Central winning the State Championship in 1998. “We had a lot of experienced players on the team, and he found a way to contribute both on the mound and at the plate.  威利斯 is deserving of induction into the ECCC Athletic Hall of Fame due to his contributions to the baseball program and the school during his two years as a student athlete. 然而, he has also been supportive of the program as an alumnus and now being able to work with the current players as the team FCA representative, he will continue to help encourage and teach lessons that will long outlive their playing careers.”  

威利斯 reflected on how his faith had changed his perspective gave new meaning to his baseball accomplishments.

他说, “I understand how God has used so many things in my life to give me a platform to be able to make much of the name of Jesus. The MVP awards and championship games mean something completely different than they did before. I had always worked hard and knew baseball was going to be a lifelong pursuit of mine, but now this game gives me the opportunity to get in front of people and proclaim the gospel. I’m forever grateful for the time I had in Decatur and the time spent in the minor leagues.”

威利斯也遇到了他的妻子, the former Crystal Cooley at ECCC, which he 说 is another reason the Decatur campus is such a special place to him and his family.  They have been married 24 years and have three daughters: Cambre 威利斯 Mayo, 也是ECCC的毕业生, Jaci, 和Claydi.

他说, “I’m proud of the family and the life we have built, and it all started at EC!”