LaPorsha Spiva never played for the man she referred to as “coach.”
The Noxapater native lost her mother as an infant and was put under the care of her grandmother and an uncle who played an active role in raising her.
Spiva and the Mississippi high school sports community are grieving the loss of a legend. Longtime Coldwater basketball coach Wert Spiva, Jr. suffered a heart attack and died on May 30. He was 44.
LaPorsha Spiva considered Wert Spiva, her uncle, as her brother, someone who always had her back and would drive her to live up to her fullest potential.
The same can be said for the players Wert Spiva coached for more than 23 years at Coldwater.
“We all called him coach. It was always coach,” LaPorsha Spiva, 23, said. “Whenever I needed him, he would be there for me and make sure I was never lacking in anything. I remember going to school and I would call him and say ‘Coach, I need some money for this, I need some money for that,’ and he’d always make sure I was keeping my grades up.”
Wert Spiva was a staple in Mississippi high school basketball, having led his teams to five state championships: two with the Cougars (2009, 2012) and three with the Lady Cougars (1996, 2007, 2008). Spiva also won several titles as Coldwater’s track and field coach.
To understand Spiva’s insurmountable impact, talk to those who coached against him. They’ll sum up Spiva in a few words.
Intense. Workaholic. Father figure. Role model.
Spiva was a jack-of-all-trades. He began his career at Coldwater as a recent college graduate in 1992 and racked up responsibilities coaching the boys and girls’ basketball teams and the Cougars’ track team, while also assisting with football, driving school buses and serving as the school’s athletic director.
“He was a hand-on person. That was just in his DNA,” H.W. Byers girls basketball coach Jason Thompson said. “All the things he coached were sports he participated in himself in high school. He loved everything he did and he did it out of his passion for those kids and the community.”
Spiva expected a lot out of his players but was never demanding. His teams knew that in order for Coldwater to make multiple trips to the Mississippi Coliseum over his career, they had to buy into Spiva’s principles of being locked in defensively.
Because if they didn’t, they wouldn’t reach the MHSAA state tournament. The Mississippi Coliseum and Coldwater basketball were almost always synonymous with one another.
“He was one of the first coaches I can remember who could get high school kids to play zone defense,” Thompson said. “His teams would have no size and contend with some of the best teams with 6-2, 6-3 kids. How he could orchestrate a full-court press and then transition back into a 2-3 zone was incredible.”
And if one of Coldwater’s teams were playing for a state title, it wouldn’t be long before Spiva could be spotted on the sidelines of the Mississippi Coliseum with crossed his arms and a stern look on his face.
“Sometimes he didn’t even have to say anything and the refs already knew,” Coffeeville girls basketball coach Bernadette Sayles said. “I can see him doing that right now. That was him.”
Over the past several years, Coldwater and H.W. Byers became staples of the MHSAA state tournament. Before the Lady Lions moved up to Class 2A in 2014, Spiva and Thompson’s teams faced off in back-to-back 1A title games in 2011 and 2012.
The coaches knew each other from years of competition. And it was Spiva who introduced Thompson to his wife, Horn Lake’s Jana Thompson, during the summer league games in 2011.
Like many who interacted with Spiva, Thompson’s relationship with the Coldwater coach was about so much more than basketball. That is why the night before the 2012 championship game, Spiva, Thompson and Thompson’s father stayed up talking and laughing in the lobby of the Best Western across from the Coliseum.
“We stayed up until 2 o’clock that morning and had to play in the championship at 1 p.m.,” Thompson said. “Our kids were probably running up and down the hallways upstairs and we were just laughing and reminiscing about how similar we were with our coaching style and how people in the area associated our teams with each other because we played so much in the state tournament.”
During the year the Lady Lions and Lady Cougars played each other in the state tournament, the teams practiced back-to-back at Northwest Mississippi Community College, often dined at the same restaurants after games and stayed at the same hotels.
Both coaches also let each other watch part of their team’s practices.
Talk about a competitive advantage.
“We kept everything in perspective. We were competitors who wanted to win but friendly enough to let each other watch practice,” Thompson said.
Despite winning multiple titles over the course of his career, those who knew Spiva best knew where his heart belonged, and that the longtime coach would eventually finish his career where he started it.
His legacy not only stands for wins and state championships but how he would extend his expertise and knowledge to others.
“This was my first year coaching track,” Sayles said. “He got me through this track season. All the little things I didn’t know about coaching track – the forms you have to fill out for meets, entry fees – he made sure I knew how to handle it.”
On Friday, Spiva’s family will have a visitation inside the gym at Coldwater from 5-7 p.m. While Spiva spent his Sundays in church, this was his sanctuary. Spiva’s funeral is set for 11 a.m. Saturday at Northwest Mississippi Community College in Senatobia.
It’s a chance for the players who considered him a father figure and the coaches and community members who admired him to say one last goodbye to a legend gone too soon.
“He’s legendary status. That’s a no-brainer,” Thompson said. “Hands down, I think he’s one of the greatest coaches ever.”
Contact Courtney Cronin at (601) 961-7091 or email@example.com. Follow @CourtneyRCronin on Twitter.