A woman in her 60s, Linda Black is standing in front of an end zone at a high school football game dressed casually — red top, black pants, black flip-flops — and her black pocketbook is on the ground.
This was the scene at Jackson Prep Friday, before the Patriots played their game against Washington.
She doesn’t work for the school. She doesn’t have a grandchild on either team. She doesn’t have a deadline to meet as a local media member.
She is not, however, out of place.
“Nowhere else I’d rather be,” Linda said with a wide smile.
That makes sense; it’s where Ricky is.
Jackson Prep’s Ricky Black secured sole possession of second place all-time Friday for most wins by a Mississippi high school football coach. He has a 347-73 record in 36 years as a head coach, the last 20 with Prep. He is in the 46th year of his career, having spent 10 seasons as an assistant.
Linda has attended every one of Ricky’s games.
“I think that is what is more unreal than being second all-time,” Ricky said. “And the fact that she has never even left a game early. What it means to me … just so much … that a person would be so supportive.”
Ricky isn’t particularly fond of at the past. His home doesn’t showcase the trophies he has won, the articles that have been written about him or the awards he has received. When asked about Linda’s role in his career, however, he stopped mid-sentence and looked away for a moment, as if pausing to reflect positively on the one constant over a career that spans nearly five decades.
Ricky and Linda met at Holmes Community College. They married after Ricky’s sophomore year and Linda’s freshman year. Black was named Kosciusko’s head football coach in 1975, when he was 25.
“I thought, how hard could it be?” Linda said. “He was going to work one night a week.”
It were those sort of naïve beliefs and, later, a willingness to understand, compartmentalize areas of their lives and adapt to any situation that made the marriage work, Linda said.
It’s also how all of those games have been attended.
“It really is extraordinary,” Jackson Prep athletic director Will Crosby said. “What amazes me about it is the sense of loyalty that they have with one another. It is important to her because that’s her husband.”
The closest Linda ever came to missing a game was in the late 1970s — “I don’t keep up with dates, we don’t look back much,” she said, echoing Ricky’s thoughts on the past — when doctors told her she had a high fever on a cold Friday morning.
Doctors told her to go home, get some sleep, take some medicine and, as she put it, “blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.”
She agreed. Then game time drew closer.
“I began to think, ‘Crud,’” she said. “‘All I have to do is sit there.’”
So she went. And she hasn’t missed a game since.
Linda’s presence is felt in more ways than one, too.
“She is quite intense,” Crosby said. “Those games are quite important to her. It is almost like she lives and dies with every play.”
Linda migrated toward her preferred viewing location – she stands in the opposing team’s end zone and switches every quarter to watch the Prep offense’s play develop – when Ricky started coaching at Prep. She travels to the away games on the parents’ bus and goes back home the bus with Ricky where she sits with him in the front.
As long as Ricky continues to coach, Linda said she will continue to be there.
“I just truly love winning,” she said. “I love watching the team and seeing the players become better than what they thought they could ever be. Mostly, I guess, I just love Ricky and seeing him do what he loves.”