Note: This story was written in 2003-2004 timeframe.
By Carey Meitzler
If you are one of thousands who have attended Picayune Maroon Tide basketball games over the years at Kelly Wise
Memorial Gymnasium, then you have had the privilege to view a game from one of the nicest facilities in this area.
I wonder how many people know who Kelly Wise was and more importantly what he represented? Yes, he was a good
basketball player, but after you take the time to read this article, I would hope that you obtain an appreciation for the
name Kelly Wise. It's truly a name that all should revere as one of the finest to ever to come out of Picayune Memorial
High School .
To understand the story behind Kelly Wise, one must go back a long way. I decided to start by spending some time with
his mother, Mrs. Shirley Wise, his older brother Danny, and one of his sisters, Ruth Wise Megehee.
Reaching Henleyfield, I turned left from Highway 43 onto Pink Smith Road and picked up Danny Wise, Kelly's older
brother by five years. From Danny's house, we continued down the road and eventually turned right onto Joe Wise road
and came to the 160 plus acre farm of the late Joe A. Wise and his wife Shirley Wise. It is clear when you drive up to
the Wise farm that you are in an area where people take pride in their surroundings and their way of life. This is where
Kelly had lived and here is an attempt to tell his wonderful, yet tragic story.
Kelly Dumas Wise was born on February 11th , 1948, as the third child of Joe and Shirley Wise. Danny was the oldest,
then Lynn, a sister, Kelly, and another sister, Ruth, who was two years younger than Kelly.
In his early years, he learned the game of basketball playing year round on the farm against Danny and neighbors. Life on
the farm, particularly the chores to support the family farm, and church, came first and foremost to the Wise family.
Playing a sport was tough in this era. In those days, all practices were held after school, and that alone made it more
difficult for those who lived far from school to participate in one sport, let alone two or three. So, how did most of the
players get home? It was not uncommon for coaches to provide a ride home to his players. In fact, bringing home one of
Shirley's boys would provide a meal in some cases.
"If one of coaches brought them home at night, they were welcome to come in and eat supper. If we were already finished,
we'd leave some and share what we had, " stated Mrs. Wise.
Danny said that it was not uncommon to arrive home at 7:00pm on a regular basis due to having to deliver several other
players as well. And he added, most of the roads were not a paved road, but most were of a gravel surface.
"If not for the coaches or booster club members, a lot of kids would not have been able to play, " said Danny. "Most families
didn't have a spare vehicle for the players to drive themselves or have a parent come pick them up. "
In 1960, Danny was a member of Coach J. Larry Ladner's first team when Ladner came to Picayune. They finished with the
season with a 12-12 record. This was quite an accomplishment since they had only won two games the previous season. In
fact, that break-even record was the worst record of any Ladner team during his 11 year tenure in Picayune. On Ladner's first
year at Picayune, Danny says this, "Coach Ladner never ran anybody off. They left on their own because of what he demanded,
hard work, was too much for some."
They finished the year with six players. The ones that wanted to play worked hard and they played. And they worked hard to
play. Very hard.
Danny recognized that Kelly was going to be a good player during their games at home. They played year round and Kelly
would hold his own playing against the older guys.
"Kelly had a natural ability for the game and being the tallest of our family (6 feet 2 inches in high school), he was able to
compete with us older ones."
After the first year, Ladner's success would attract more players interested in being part of the winning program that he was
building. Years later, when Kelly reached high school, Danny said that "Ladner worked the heck out of him (Kelly) like he
did everyone else and he became a pretty good player."
Kelly loved basketball. His mother remembers Kelly taking advantage of every chance he had to become a better player.
"He would leave his basketball under the goal out there (in the yard) and if he happened to walk by the goal, he would stop
and shoot a few free throws."
Making your free throws was a trademark of a Larry Ladner team. He often stated that there is a reason they are called "free".
The importance must have stuck with Kelly Wise.
Mrs. Wise recalls, "I remember Kelly going to the line (free throw) in games, taking a deep breath, and before he would even
shoot, the fans around us would say 'you can put that one on the board'". And they did just that often. In his junior season, Kelly
won the trophy presented to the Picayune player with the highest free throw percentage.
During his senior season of 1965-66, Kelly played on a team that would finish with an outstanding 34-5 record and win the
South Big 8 Championship. One of his teammates, Carlie Spiers said Kelly was special.
"He didn't score a lot and he wasn't our biggest rebounder. But, he played good defense and he was such a good team player,
we decided to vote him our most valuable player our senior year."
Spiers went on to say, "You never had to worry about him laying down on the job. He always worked hard. Everybody liked
Kelly. Looking back on it now, anybody would love to have had him for a son."
In front of an overflow crowd, Spiers, Wise, and the rest of the Tide team defeated Hattiesburg in a nail-biter in overtime
44-43 in the South Big Eight finals in what is now the junior high gym, also known as the "old gym". It was a scene like
Picayune had never seen. The team had the city and surrounding communities singing their praises.
Earlier that year, the Tide lost a game to Gulfport in a tournament final after winning two games in the previous two days.
Mrs. Wise allowed me to read what Kelly had written after the loss. The note written on the tournament bracket says,
"We let ourselves, Coach Ladner, and about 15,000 people down Saturday by just not beating Gulfport . We must get back
into God's pathway. As I write this, I do make a one vow; I will do my best to make up everything to Coach Ladner, the
15,000 people, and ourselves." He went on to write "the keys to success as Coach Ladner puts it are desire, determination,
hustle, and pride. This last one is probably the most important one because it makes up the other three. We just didn't hustle.
Our thinking was so small; we didn't see what was happening in the two previous games prior to the championship."
Kelly Wise was more than a basketball player. He was a great student. Kelly was the President of the Student Council,
President of the Hi-Y club (similar to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes of today), President of the French II Club, and
he attended the American Legion's boys state procedures in real government. He was selected by his classmates as Mr.
PMHS. He accepted a basketball scholarship to continue his education at Pearl River Junior College in Poplarville.
Kelly Wise, Student Council President
Claiborne "Buddy" McDonald was a classmate of Kelly Wise at Picayune and holds him in the highest esteem.
"He would never do anything to get in trouble or do anything that was bad. Although he was very good at basketball,
he didn't come across as being a showboat. He was a down-to-earth guy. He was very personable. Kelly was deeply
involved in every aspect of the school. Kelly seemed to see the overall big picture in everything. He was engaged in
what was going on and saw how important it was for everyone to be."
It is safe to say that Kelly was truly wise beyond his years.
On graduation, he wrote a thank you note to his parents that contained the following, "Thanks for your help the last
12 years. To prove my thanks, I promise you, that in the next 12 years, I will put the name Wise on top."
#35 Kelly Wise
With all the success and contributions that Kelly had delivered at school, there was much more that he gave to others that you
may not be aware of. He was an outstanding person in his church life. At the age of seventeen, he was the Assistant Superin-
tendent of Sunday School at New Henleyfield Baptist Church. Every Sunday, he would address the entire church in a devotional
gathering prior to their Sunday School classes. Kelly would write the devotionals during the week in preparation for their Sunday
services. I was able to read some of his devotionals that he delivered to the congregation. It was very obvious that he was a
young man who wrote from a heart that was filled with the spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In one of his writings, Kelly wrote "With all the hustle and bustle, we have taken Christ out of Christmas and made it X-Mas."
In another, he wrote "We are at war. No, not a war where battles are fought with guns. We are at war with sin."
It is quite evident that Kelly inherited his ability to write so eloquently from his father, the late Joe Wise. Mr. Wise published
four books about life in Pearl River County . His first book was entitled Paradise on the Pearl and was a saga about the Wise
family ancestry and how they came to settle in Henleyfield. This and three other books are available at Margaret Reed Crosby
Memorial Library in Picayune and in the Poplarville public library in memory of Kelly. Also, in his honor, the church where he
served, has a memorial to Kelly in the Baptistery.
Kelly worked the summer after his graduation at the Crosby Chemicals plant in Picayune. Because of his knowledge of the Bible
and God's plan of salvation, many workers of all races and backgrounds used to ask Kelly to "talk to us about the Lord" on many
occasions. He would do so for the last time that summer.
On August 19, 1966, a blast at the Crosby Chemical plant burned Kelly severely. This was supposed to be his last day at the plant
before preparing to go on the Pearl River Junior College . In shock, he ran for a quarter of a mile before a motorist would pick him
up and take him to Crosby Memorial Hospital. He died the next day as a result of his burns from the explosion. His sister Lynn,
who worked as a medical technician at the hospital, and his Aunt Doris, a registered nurse, were the only family members allowed
to see him after the accident due to the severity of his burns.
Days before his death, he had told friends and family he was preparing a devotional entitled "Why Believe" for Sunday. Mrs. Wise
says she was never able to find it. Also after his death, several friends had told the family that Kelly had told them that he had
decided to enter the ministry as a Baptist minister.
Ruth commented that "he probably reached more people for the Lord through his death than if he had lived a whole lifetime."
During 1966, the "new" gymnasium and school (then the Junior High) was under construction at the time of Kelly's tragic death.
There was an effort spearheaded by Coach Ladner and members of the school board to name the facility in honor of Kelly.
On January 6, 1967, the gymnasium was officially named Kelly Wise Memorial Gymnasium.
Coach Ladner has many fond memories of all of his teams and players. When remembering Kelly Wise, Ladner offered this statement.
"When I think of Kelly, he was the All-American type person. First and foremost, he was as fine a Christian young man you would
ever want to know. He was great in every aspect of life as a Christian, academically, socially, in his athletic career; he just epitomized
the ideals of youth."
On the basketball court, Ladner described Kelly Wise in this manner.
"He was a goal setter. He worked diligently to accomplish his goals. I am proud of all my players, but I have never coached anyone
that attempted to accomplish his goals as intensely as or more intensely than Kelly. Whatever he did, he did it to his best."
During that South Big Eight Championship game against Hattiesburg , Picayune called time-out in a crucial situation with less than a
minute to play in the overtime period. Before they could even talk about their strategy when play was to resume, Kelly
asked Coach Ladner, "Coach, lead us in prayer." Ladner did as requested. Ladner said that was the kind of person Kelly was in his
walk with the Lord.
Ladner said that Kelly was a fine person on his own, but "when you knew the family, when you knew Mr. and Mrs. Wise, anything
less than the best would have been a letdown. They were such wonderful people."
Coach J. Larry Ladner with Kelly sitting to his left.
Ladner said that for many years, he has wanted to come to Picayune each year and tell the all the basketball players who Kelly
Wise was and what the significance of that gym. The reasons are many.
"He was a class individual on and off the floor. The example he set would have been a good one for all of us to follow in every
aspect of life. I think of him and his family often."
So Kelly Wise was more than a basketball player. He was a fine person who was cherished by those who knew him. Mrs. Wise
offers a lovely statement of the impact of Kelly's life on her family.
"I just know that we are, have been, and will always be a better family for having had Kelly the lovely eighteen years that God
let us keep him."
Ruth's son, Woody, never knew his uncle Kelly, but yet out of his respect and admiration for what he learned about Kelly,
Woody named his daughter Kelly.
Danny, holding back tears said, "He was just so special that you just couldn't beat him."
Kelly's grave monument was designed by his father and states "Thy memory shall ever be a guiding star to heaven" , which is
very fitting based on what I have learned about him. He vowed to take the Wise name to the top. He had already done that
and didn't know it. So, the next time you enter Kelly Wise Memorial Gymnasium, think about the fine person behind the
name on the wall.