High School Sports

Brittney Reese: ‘It’s heartbreaking to see’ Gulfport tarnished by violence

United States' Brittney Reese competes in the women's long jump final, during 2016 Summer Olympics at the Olympic stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Aug. 17, 2016. The Gulfport native is set to return to the Coast on Saturday to host a youth clinic.
United States' Brittney Reese competes in the women's long jump final, during 2016 Summer Olympics at the Olympic stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Aug. 17, 2016. The Gulfport native is set to return to the Coast on Saturday to host a youth clinic. AP File

Brittney Reese loves her hometown. Let’s get that out of the way. The Olympian has always lifted up the Coast and, in turn, made South Mississippi proud to call her one of its own.

When the Gulfport High and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College graduate returns home Saturday — fresh off of securing a silver medal in the long jump at the Rio 2016 Olympics — her visit will serve several purposes.

Although she now trains mostly in San Diego, Reese keeps up with her hometown, and, in her words, there’s parts of it she doesn’t recognize anymore. Specifically, the violent crime that has led Gulfport Police Chief Leonard Papania to commonly use the phrase “criminal subculture” since 2015.

In 2016 alone there have been 10 homicides in Gulfporttwo within 24 hours of one another last week.

“It’s devastating because I grew up in Gulfport and never had to encounter so many killings in our city. It’s devastating. I’m trying to figure out why those things are happening,” Reese told the Sun Herald in a phone interview Monday. “I was able to walk the streets. I was able to be outside and play. I remember us all coming together as a community and going to Gulfport High basketball games and football games. Then I come home and the kids aren’t supported like I remember them being supported. It’s heartbreaking to see such a great city being tarnished by violence and things like that.

“I feel like the children are the future, and if you catch them early and show them a different direction and path, I think it’ll be a lot easier on our community.”

Speed & Agility Clinic

With that in mind, Reese is hosting her first Speed & Agility Clinic from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at Gulfport High School’s track. The cost is $35 if you pre-register by emailing breesejumps86@gmail.com or $40 at the gate. The clinic is for athletes ages 8 and older and will include drills for all sports.

“I’m just trying to bring the kids together and basically show them that they can be successful coming out of Gulfport,” Reese said. “I’ll bring my medals to show the kids and things like that. I just want to bring some positivity to the community because there’s a lot of negative things going on right now. Hopefully this can be a start to it and get the kids on the right track.”

Reese has traveled the globe as a guest at similar clinics, most recently in Hawaii and Switzerland. Now, with a greater calling in mind, she’s decided to return to the Coast.

“What better place to do one than bring one back home?” she said.

As a three-time Olympian, there’s an additional burden Reese carries, which she realizes.

“I feel like a lot of kids look up to me and what I’ve done on the track,” she said. “I want to show them what I can do in the community also. I feel like it’s very important for me to step up at this time and be the face and try to show the kids a different direction. ...

“It’s real important right now to catch the youth early. Something obviously isn’t right, so we have to figure some things out.”

Reviewing Rio

Reese narrowly missed winning another gold in August’s Olympics after she was edged out by fellow American Tianna Bartoletta’s jump of 7.17 meters compared with her 7.15.

The former GHS, MGCCC and Ole Miss standout was disappointed by her performance at first. After reflecting on the summer in Rio de Janeiro, however, Reese gave herself an A-minus.

“The minus because I started out slow. The qualifying rounds I only took one jump so I really didn’t get a good feel for the track like I needed to. I put myself in that position and let it go early. My first jump I felt like would have won it but it was a foul, so I left the gate open too early. My second jump was a safety jump and my third jump, I should have picked it up a little bit earlier than I did,” Reese said. “After I got back and got over my madness about how I performed, I really couldn’t be too upset because I had a really rough couple of years.

“After all of it I still won the Indoors and USA trials. I had a personal best this year, so a lot came with it; I did a lot this year. To still be able to be on the podium, you can’t complain too much because a lot of people would love to be in my position right now. I couldn’t be mad so I give myself an A-minus.”

What’s next?

Next up for Reese is the 2017 World Championships in London, which she’ll begin training for in October with light workouts.

Could Reese, 30, make another jump at Olympic gold in the 2020 Summer Olympics in Japan?

Reese paused for a moment.

“As of right now I’m 50-50,” she said. “I don’t really know. I’m going to give myself until 2018 to decide what I’m going to do. If my body is up for it, then I’m all for it. If not, then I’ll hang it up. ... It just depends on how far I’m still jumping. I don’t want to be that athlete jumping 6.30 and people are wondering why Brittney is still out here jumping.

“I want to make sure I’m still competing at a high level if I continue to do it. We’ll see.”

First, however, Reese is coming back to the Coast, where she may just find the next Olympian.

If you go

What: Brittney Reese Speed & Agility Clinic; ages 8 and older

When: 11 a.m.-3 p.m., Saturday

Where: Gulfport High School

Cost: $35 pre-registration; $40 Saturday

Pre-registration: Send email to breesejumps86@gmail.com