You may think you know Pat Olmi, but you probably didn’t know this.
Sitting along the chainlink fence at Harrison Central’s baseball field last Wednesday, future Red Rebels ran through tryouts.
With a black Biloxi Shuckers hat pulled down over his forehead, the 6-foot-4 Chase Jones — back on the baseball field after focusing on football last season — picked a hot shot down the line from his third-base position and nimbly tossed the ball toward the bucket behind second base.
“You know,” the recently retired coach said while keeping his eyes on Jones, “I was mentioned in Sports Illustrated once.”
Anyone who knows Olmi knows he didn’t say it as braggadocio, but more in passing while transitioning between coaching memories and watching batting practice.
“For what?” I asked. Was he included in the “Faces in the Crowd” section or perhaps mentioned for a Red Rebel winning streak?
Not exactly. Try potentially saving the life of one of his athletes.
Saving a life
About two years before Olmi took over the HCHS baseball program in summer 1996, he was coaching in the Delta at Rolling Fork.
In addition to being a successful baseball coach, he was also tasked with coaching the school’s basketball program.
The Braves were fresh off the 1993 Class 3A State Championship, but ultimately wouldn’t get a shot at defending their title.
While preparing for another postseason run in 1994, one of Olmi’s players, Kevin Williams, was arrested Oct. 13 on murder charges in the killings of a man, woman and 2-week-old baby in Jackson.
“It was crazy,” Olmi said, asked what he remembered about Williams’ arrest. “Police were all over the place. It was just wild.”
Olmi immediately knew Williams was innocent. He couldn’t have been in Jackson on Oct. 4 at the time of the shooting because he was at basketball practice 80 miles away in Sharkey County.
Williams spent a day in jail before Olmi and his family convinced authorities of Williams’ innocence.
“I was just doing what needed to be done,” Olmi said. “It wasn’t like I did anything special. The kid was just there (at the basketball gym).”
MHSAA and Rolling Fork
Williams ended up being in the clear, but the MHSAA threw the book at Olmi’s Braves.
The state had just passed a new rule forbidding basketball practice after school hours prior to Oct. 10.
Olmi claimed at the time he hadn’t received a copy of the new MHSAA calendar and had started practicing Oct. 3 in preparation for their Oct. 29 opener.
As it turned out, then-MHSAA executive director Ennis Proctor only learned of the Braves’ early practices because of the coverage of the slayings, and decided to “send a message,” as he told the Associated Press, and place Rolling Fork’s boys and girls basketball teams on probation through Oct. 9, 1995.
Olmi felt the sanctions were unfair, but the school didn’t file an appeal.
“One good thing about it — we possibly saved a kid’s life,” Olmi told the AP.
“When the (Sports Illustrated reporter) called and asked, I thought he was just kidding around,” Olmi said. “He said he was flying from Jackson to Atlanta and someone had left a paper in the plane so he was reading about it all.”
SI used the story in a notebook of national storylines.
“Just weeks ago folks in Rolling Fork, Miss., were looking forward to a terrific basketball season,” he wrote. “The Braves of Rolling Fork High are the defending state 3A boys champions, and coach Pat Olmi had high hopes for this year’s team. Now the season, which opened last Saturday with a loss to Shelby Broadstreet High, hardly seems to matter.”
Though Williams was ultimately freed, the homicide investigation remains unresolved.