Professor Brian Anderson is proof that you don’t need children of your own in order to be a father figure.
The director of MC’s social work program, Anderson has dedicated his life to mentoring young people. When he’s not inspiring MC students in the classroom, Anderson serves as a volunteer coach for the Callaway High School Chargers basketball team. The 2010 Chargers finished the season 22-11, won the Mississippi Class 5A state championship, and finished second in the overall state championship. • But while there’s no doubt Anderson is a savvy basketball coach, his biggest influence on his players is off the court. In the three years that Anderson has been volunteer coaching, every senior on every Charger team has graduated from high school and attended college. • “I’ve always felt the need to help others. This is what we encourage our social work students to do as public servants – put an altruistic mindset to work,” Anderson says. “Selfishly, it’s very rewarding to work with kids as a potential mentor, academically and athletically. Coaching is about the passion to help kids as well as a personal love of the athletic environment. If I can positively impact one player or say one thing that could be of benefit in a kid’s life, then I’ve served my purpose.”
Every member of Brian Anderson’s family played sports, including his brothers, his father, and even his mother, who once starred in a faculty vs. PTA basketball game at her son’s school.
“When I was born, I think the first thing my family members said was, “Okay, which sport is he going to play?” Anderson says. “I grew up playing basketball and football and while I always loved the games, I also developed an appreciation of the bonds you can build through sports and the impact one person can have on another. I was blessed with coaches who helped frame a secure foundation for me in sports and in life.”
As a student and standout basketball player at Tougaloo College, Anderson originally planned to pursue a career in physical therapy.
“I pictured myself standing around in scrubs while I watched injured athletes ride stationary bikes,” Anderson recalls. “Then I took a lab course that required me to dissect something. The smell of the lab convinced me that was not the field for me.”
Still feeling led to a career that would involve helping others, Anderson switched his major to sociology, eventually discovering his calling in social work. Following his graduation from Tougaloo, he earned a master’s degree in social work from Louisiana State University and a doctorate in social work from Jackson State University. Prior to joining the MC faculty in 2006, Anderson held positions as assistant professor of sociology at Tougaloo College, assistant professor of social work at Jackson State, instructor of physical education and athletic training and assistant men’s basketball coach at the University of West Alabama, and instructor of sociology at Tougaloo College.
All of those positions involved working with young people, but Anderson’s toughest mentoring challenge was serving as one of three social workers at the Capital City Alternative School. From 1995-98, Anderson counseled students who had been expelled from public school for a range of behavioral problems. Their offenses included excessive absences, doing or selling drugs, having sex on campus, fighting, acts of violence, and weapons violations. One student was there for hot-wiring a bulldozer.
While many of the students were eager to straighten out their lives and return to public school, others clearly felt they had little left to lose. Anderson worked with students who stashed alcohol and drugs in the classroom ceiling tiles and took bets on how quickly they could harass a substitute teacher into going home. He recalls one student who came to school clutching a stuffed teddy bear; teachers later discovered that she was using the toy to conceal a knife.
“There was a hostile atmosphere on campus,” Anderson says. “These kids were troubled, but they were also smart and they could sometimes be manipulative. I was fortunate to have worked with some innovative, committed teachers and two outstanding social workers whose patience, guidance, and mentoring taught me a lot. We always had to be very careful and on point and understand the kids’ mindset.”
“I talk to young males about making good decisions and the connection between doing well in school and success in life. Some seem to be listening, some are clearly not. But if I can reach just one, I’ve done something.”
Anderson spent most of his days in one-on-one or group counseling sessions with students and their parents, helping families work through the issues that had brought the students to the alternative school and providing follow-up counseling when they returned to public school. It was an emotionally draining, often heartbreaking job, but one that Anderson loved.
“I was very sad when I left because I knew the impact I had had on some of those kids,” Anderson says. “I’m still very proud to have been a part of that.”
Anderson still visits the Alternative School today as a guest speaker.
“I talk to young males about making good decisions and the connection between doing well in school and success in life,” Anderson says. “Some seem to be listening, some are clearly not. But if I can reach just one, I’ve done something.”
Anderson brings all of his life experiences to play in his role as a volunteer basketball coach. Callaway is not the first high school to benefit from his leadership. From 1996-98, Anderson was an assistant coach at Provine High School in Jackson, where he helped lead the 1998 Provine basketball team to the first Class 5A state championship in school history. When Wayne Brent and Charles Wansley, the same coaches he had worked with at Provine, invited Anderson to coach with them again at Callaway High School, Anderson jumped at the chance.
The 17 to 18 members on each year’s Callaway team come from a wide range of backgrounds. Some live in stable, two-parent homes, some are being raised by single mothers and benefit from having a positive male role model. Others come from tough situations in which violence is the norm; more than a few have lost friends to senseless acts.
“The greatest challenge in coaching these young men is realistically connecting academics, athletics, and life experiences for them, especially since many of them come from environmentally challenged situations,” Anderson says. “Our mission as coaches is to challenge the student-athletes and help them to be as prepared as possible for life experiences. Our goal is to build a competitive team and win basketball games, but more importantly, it’s to get these young men to stay in school and to go to college.”
Structure is key to achieving that goal. Callaway basketball players are required to attend study hall or tutorials before or after school and to keep their grades up. Every basketball practice is also an opportunity to learn a life lesson. In addition to teaching players how to make a three-point shot or play better defense, Anderson and his fellow coaches teach them the importance of being on time, how to dress properly for different situations, appropriate ways to resolve conflicts, and how to better articulate themselves when they have a point they want to make. A reality Anderson emphasizes to his players is that education, not basketball, is the key to their futures.
A 2010 graduate of Callaway High School, Jason Gibson was a star basketball player, a member of the Honor Society, Student Body President, and Mr. Callaway High School. This fall, he will attend Holmes Community College on a full basketball scholarship. Gibson is a role model for many of his younger classmates, thanks in part to the role model he had in Brian Anderson.
“Coach Anderson didn’t just focus on the game. He was way more to us than a basketball coach,” Gibson says. “He saw potential in me, and not just in sports. He was all the time encouraging me in school. I’m going to major in social science education because I want to be a teacher, too, and Coach Anderson is a big part of that. Knowing you can have that kind of impact on a kid is what made me want to be a teacher.”
Gibson won’t be the first former player to follow Brian Anderson’s lead. Several of his players from Provine High School have become teachers and coaches. Otis Gaines played basketball under Brian Anderson at Provine, then again as a student-athlete at the University of West Alabama. Today, Gaines is the head basketball coach at Long Beach High School and is working towards his Ph.D. at the University of Southern Mississippi. Though he eventually found himself following in Anderson’s footsteps, Gaines confesses that as a student at Provine High School, he originally didn’t care for Coach Anderson.
“He would never let me take a break from working hard and he always had me running extra laps for trying to take short cuts,” Gaines confesses. “But as time passed and I became more mature as a person and a player, I saw how his persistence paid off for me. I don’t know whether he knows it or not, but Brian Anderson really helped me to jumpstart my career.”
“Brian was always honest and he cared about his players. I know for a fact he stayed on my case because he knew I could do better on the court and off the court,” says Markeith Brown, a former Provine player who is now the head women’s cross-country coach and assistant women’s basketball coach at LeTourneau University in Longview, Texas. “Brian encouraged me to do my best and to keep striving for the top. I can still remember all the positive things he said to me, because there weren’t too many people besides my family telling me good things back then.”
“My greatest reward is to see the impact I have had on these young men,” Anderson says. “Many of them still come back to visit and attend games or practices. We instill in the players that even after they graduate and move on to college or the workforce, we are still a family.”
That’s a lesson that Otis Gaines has taken to heart.
“Coach Anderson has been one of the biggest influences on my life,” Gaines says. “I look at him as more than just a coach. I consider him family. I’ve even thought that if I ever find the right girl, I might ask Brian Anderson to be the best man in my wedding.”