Historic coach Sank Powe dies
by Andy Collier
Jan 22, 2013 | 8061 views | 0 0 comments | 33 33 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Sank Powe at his Cleveland School District office
Sank Powe at his Cleveland School District office
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Cleveland will never be the same as early Sunday afternoon at Bolivar Medical Center, legendary coach and community leader Sank Powe, 70, died of long-term health issues.

Powe, who was born on April 20 1942, and grew up in Mound Bayou, has been a central figure in not only Cleveland, but also Bolivar County and the rest of the Delta for many years.

He is best known for his 25-year stint as head baseball coach of the Cleveland High School Wildcats.

In his 30 years at East Side High School and Cleveland High School, he had a career coaching record of 517-183.

Powe was also a teacher, assistant football coach and head softball coach.

His life’s work went beyond Cleveland High School as he worked at the Cleveland Park Commission and was a Major League Baseball scout in the Cincinnati Reds organization for many years.

He was also coordinator of the Cleveland School District Mentor Program and did a lot of work through his Coach Powe Community Foundation.

He promoted baseball in the Delta and influenced many people.

Many friends, former players and students have flooded Facebook with an outpouring of love, remembering the man with a big smile and the pipe that people always smelled when he was around.

Cleveland Mayor Billy Nowell said, "Powe will truly be missed in Cleveland.

“He was a great, great human being and an unbelievable baseball coach as we all know, but he was even a better person,” Nowell said. “He is one of the true leaders that we’ve had in Cleveland and he is just good as gold.

“He had a very calming demeanor about him. He could make the best out of any situation and his leadership skills showed up in the way he demanded respect from people. People listened to him. Cleveland is not the same place without Coach Powe, but his memories will always be with us.”

Powe, who was an all-conference catcher at Jackson State University in 1963, began his coaching and teaching career in 1966 at East Side High School.

After a few seasons he got the word from the school district that he would be a teacher and head baseball coach at Cleveland High School in the fall of 1970.

Powe’s hiring was historic because he was a black coach at an all white school during a time of racial tension.

Powe’s will, determination and personality were key as he earned the respect of his players and everyone in the community.

In 1972, he guided the Wildcats to the Class A State Baseball Championship. From there, Powe guided Cleveland to four more trips to the state championship series.

Northwest head football coach and athletic director Pete Hurt, who played baseball under Powe from 1971-74, said it was tough on Powe when he was hired to coach at CHS.

“He was in a no-win situation,” said Hurt, who has been in coaching for 35 years. “All he wanted to do was coach baseball and have a good baseball program but it was so much more than that. I can remember going up to Shelby and we had some of our Cleveland High School students on the Shelby side chastising him from the stands, because he was somewhat considered like an Uncle Tom in the black community and some people didn’t accept him in the white community.

“The beauty of it all was that black and white were united through his work in baseball and there was no color when it came to that.”

According to Hurt, Powe worked the players hard and demanded a lot out of them but he also cared about them and was a tremendous person.

Hurt said Powe truly knew the game of baseball.

“During that era there usually really wasn’t baseball guys coaching baseball at that time at high school,” Hurt said. “At lot of times, you just had an assistant football coach that did baseball. He was way ahead of his time even in the baseball aspect of it because he was a true baseball guy. There weren’t many of those in high school baseball at that time. He was a true pioneer.”

Mark Williams, who played baseball at Cleveland High from 1975-78, said Powe provided building blocks on how to live outside of sports.

“He taught life lessons,” Williams said. “I feel like he prepared you more for life than anything else. He came at a time where there were turbulent times during segregation. During the time when I was there, he bridged the gap so well. He didn’t see color. He was more interested in you as a person.”

Bob Card, who has been teaching at Cleveland High School since 1978, coached with Powe under then head football coach Bill Matthews when Card first came to Cleveland High.

Card worked with Powe at the school for close to 20 years and said he will miss him deeply.

“Coach Powe touched a lot of people and I feel very fortunate to have crossed paths in my life with him,” Card said. “He always made you feel better. You always felt better being around him. It’s just tough to put it into words. He’s one of those type people you just kind of figured and expected to always be around. Cleveland was very fortunate to have a person of his caliber for sure. He definitely made our community better.”

Current Cleveland High School head baseball coach Steve Wies, who was an assistant baseball coach under Powe for three years and assistant softball coach for two years, said Powe meant a lot to him coming up as a coach.

“He gave me my start in my coaching career,” Wies said. “I don’t know if I could have picked a better role model for myself. He was a mentor to so many kids in the community and he was also such a good role model and mentor for me as well.

"Coach Powe wanted his players to succeed on and off the field. Powe always pushed his players to do the best they could at all times," said Wies.

Wies added he learned a lot by how Powe went about coaching his players.

“I had not experienced the type of discipline in which he instilled with such fire and passion,” Powe said. “Completely different than my high school coaches, he had a very extreme drive to him. He wanted to drive his players to get the best out of themselves. He would not settle for mediocrity. Whatever your potential was, that’s where he wanted you to be and he would not settle for anything less than that.

“His motto in all the years that I knew him as a coach was ‘the biggest room in the world is the room for improvement.’ Basically that means you’re never going to perform at your best but his point was you strived to get there.”

“Cleveland High School is blessed to count Coach Powe as one of our own,” said CHS Principal Steven Craddock, who has been at the school since 1991. “He was a mighty Cleveland Wildcat through and through and had that Wildcat spirit that you can only hope other students, faculty and teachers get. He was a bridge builder in our community. He was a big reason that Cleveland High School has the racial harmony that it has.”

Craddock said Powe was fair to everybody he taught and coached in his time at CHS.

“Coach Powe wanted what was best for the kids,” Craddock said. “He wanted to bring out the best in them. He taught life lessons as much as he taught curriculum and that’s what people remember. He was concerned about what people were on the inside and not what they looked like on the outside or how much money they had or didn’t have.”

Cleveland Park Commission Director Stephen Glorioso said previous park director Quinton Steen and Powe were two people that he learned a lot from.

Glorioso said Powe always cared about what was going on with the park commission.

“Coach taught me a lot about the park commission and a lot about how to deal with people,” Glorioso said. “He told me when I did good and told when I did bad. Between him and Mr. Steen, they were like dads to me. Even when I called him last week to talk to him, he gave me advice then. I couldn’t sum up in a few words what Coach Powe has meant to me over these last 14 years. It’s hard to put into words.

“He was always there when I needed him, and he was always there for advice. He meant so much. Even in the (Dixie Boys) World Series last year when he was still sick, he was always there and always supportive. He was a coach to a lot of people but he was a great friend to me. My only regret was I never got to play under him.”

According to Glorioso, Powe knew how to keep his cool during any tough situation that came up and was always fair.

“It didn’t matter if somebody came up screaming and hollering or whatever, he would smile at you and go ‘Hey, let’s talk about this.’ When he dealt with people and they had huge problems and where ready to be mad at the world, Coach Powe had a knack of smiling at them and he never lost his cool. He knew the right things to say at the right time. It’s amazing the composure he had in every situation. He knew how to talk to people.”

Powe’s impact on girl's athletics at Cleveland High School was great as he was the team’s first slow-pitch softball coach in 1989. During his tenure as softball coach, he posted a record of 157-43.

The girls on the Lady Wildcats’ softball team always respected him and looked up to him during his coaching tenure.

Camille Cole Woods, who played softball at CHS from 1995-97, said “Coach Powe was one of those guys that made such a huge impact on everybody that knew him. He definitely did on mine. To a lot of us, he was like a second dad almost because we spent so much time with him and got so close to him. He’s done so much for the community and all the kids, not just Cleveland High kids, but all the kids in town knew him and loved him. He will definitely be missed by everybody that ever knew him.”

Another person influenced by Powe was April Livingston Hooks, who played softball at CHS from 1994-97.

Hooks said Powe was a father figure when her brother Patrick Livingston was killed in a car accident on July 4, 1997.

“He extended his arms to me when I needed him the most,” Hooks said. “Everybody thinks that on the exterior he is this big tough guy, but he was really just a softie. He was always there for me when I really needed him and that was a very difficult time being 16 or 17 years old. I’m in Michigan and he still has an effect on me. He was just an extraordinary man.”

Powe’s work enabled him to be inducted into the Mississippi Association of Coaches Hall of Fame and the Jackson State University Hall of Fame.

The baseball field at Cleveland High School, Sank Powe Field, is named after him.

Cleveland Alderman Robert Sanders, who’s wife Tracey Boddie-Sanders was a trainer on his baseball team from 1978-81, said Powe had a great impact on everyone he met.

“He touched many lives in our community being a mentor, a coach and a teacher,” Sanders said. “He was a person who had care for everyone regardless of who you were, he was the person who really touched lives whenever you came in contact with him. He was just a joy, and I was excited to have the opportunity to work beside him.”

Powe’s daughters Calandra Powe-Owten and Veronika Powe-Wilson said they were thankful for all the support the community has given their father over the years.

Powe was proceeded in death by his wife Rebecca Flakes Powe.

Funeral arrangements are pending through W.S. Brandon Mortuary.