The 1997 MHSAA Pontotoc state championship cross country team
In what might otherwise sound like the name of a prestigious law firm (“Whiteside, Hill and Bain”), Pontotoc (Mississippi) High School boys cross country runners Scott Whiteside and Ben Hill and their coach Mike Bain have helped lead the Warriors to extraordinary levels of success over the years.
While competing for Pontotoc, Whiteside and Hill combined to win nine consecutive Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) state cross country titles.
From 1993 to 1997, Whiteside claimed top honors from his eighth-grade year through his senior year.
Then, beginning the year after Whiteside graduated, Hill won four MHSAA state championships from 1998 to 2001.
Although not an official category in the NFHS’ National High School Sports Record Book, the twosome constitute the only two runners from the same high school to win four state titles in back-to-back blocks (the Record Book doesn’t recognize performances from eighth grade or younger).
The success of the Pontotoc boys cross country program goes beyond just Whiteside and Hill as the program won 20 state titles from 1978 to 2013, while the Warriors girls program has claimed 15 state championships.
The architect of those highly successful distance running programs is Bain, who graduated from Pearl (Mississippi) High School in 1970. Bain ran track at Hinds Junior College (Mississippi) for two years, and then competed in track and cross country at Mississippi College under coach Joe Walker Jr., who later became head track coach at Ole Miss.
Coach Mike Bain giving direction to Pontotoc cross country runner Robin Shumaker
While at Mississippi College, Bain participated in the NAIA national championship in the steeplechase. His roommate at Mississippi College was David Whiteside, who later became father of Scott. That formed the genesis of Bain’s connection to Pontotoc.
Bain began his coaching and teaching career at Pontotoc in 1976, when he coached junior high school football and track. In 1978, the MHSAA added boys cross country as a state championship sport, at which time Bain started the Pontotoc cross country program with nine members. The Warriors wasted little time as they won state titles during their first two years (1978 and 1979). Bain then started the Pontotoc girls cross country program in 1982, and also led it to the MHSAA state title during its inaugural season.
In recognition of his outstanding efforts, Bain was selected Mississippi coach of the year eight times; regional coach of the year twice; and national coach of the year once. He was inducted into the Mississippi Coaches Hall of Fame in 2010.
“From the time I was in high school, I knew I wanted to coach,” Bain explained. “I have always been competitive in nature, but I have learned over the past 40 years that winning is not where the satisfaction comes from. It comes from the journey that you get to take with some amazing kids who inspire you every day to be the best coach that you can be - kids who place God and team as priorities in their lives.
“After 40 years, I probably should have already retired, but these kids keep you coming back. I am thankful for the success we have had over the years, but I am more thankful for the blessings God has given me through these kids.”
In addition to coaching cross country, Bain has also enjoyed great success during the spring months, as he has coached the boys and girls track programs to 12 state titles.
According to the streak-starting Whiteside, coach Bain possessed attributes that made him a major reason for Pontotoc’s success.
Scott Whiteside was a five-time Mississippi state cross country champion
”I think coach Bain’s greatest strength was being able to get the very best out of every single runner, no matter what their ability,” Whiteside said. “And, he was able to do that over a long period of time without ever yelling. Every runner wanted to do well for coach Bain. He really is an amazing coach and person.
“My time when I won state as an eighth-grader was 17:05 – the second-place finisher was 17:28. After winning that title, I felt pressure to repeat and to possibly win five consecutive state titles. But, I think runners perform better under pressure. Of those titles, I would say that winning it my senior year was the most gratifying - just knowing that it was the last time I’d run a high school cross country meet.
“I knew Ben Hill as long as I can remember. His older brother, Lee Hill, was also an all-state finisher for Warriors cross country. He and I were the same age and best friends. I could not begin to tell you how many weekends I stayed at Ben’s house with his brother. And I still see Ben regularly - more so than Lee. Ben works at Renesant Bank, not a mile from where I work. That makes the nine in a row just a little more special to me - the fact it was a good friend of mine who accomplished it with me.
Ben Hill and Abbey Graham both won state cross country titles for Pontotoc in 2001
“I sell building materials at Peeples Building Supply - anything from blocks to paint. I actually supplied material for Ben’s house couple years ago. I've been there 15 years this August.
“Although my wife, Brandi, didn't run in high school, she has taken it up in the past few years. She's done several 5Ks and a few half-marathons. I’m 35 and I run occasionally - mostly for fitness.
“Our children are Braxton (8) and Ava (7). Softball and baseball take up most of our time. Braxton and his Pontotoc Pirates team recently won the 8U state baseball tournament in Jackson, Mississippi. We could not have been more proud!”
Similar to Whiteside, Hill gives all due credit to coach Bain for the program’s extraordinary success.
“To me, coach Bain was a great motivator,” Hill began. “He wasn’t someone who was going to yell or scream, but he knew exactly what to say and when to say it to get you ready to run. Coach Bain is just a good person - he cares more about his runners than any coach I have ever been around.
“When I won the state title as a freshman, it was nice, but when you consider that Scott had just won five in a row starting in the eighth grade, it wasn’t as if I was doing something people hadn’t already seen. It was still very exciting - my parents said I smiled all the way around the course.
“I never felt any pressure to win until my senior year. I was always very self-motivated and didn’t take anything or anybody for granted. I tried to approach every race with the mindset that I needed to be at my best in order to win. My senior year, I got a little banged up and a little doubt started to creep in that maybe I wouldn’t win. I’ve always said that the team titles are much more satisfying to me than the individual titles. I left Pontotoc with seven state championship rings and made a lot of memories with teammates during that time.
“Scott and I ran together for two years. His senior year (my eighth-grade year), I believe I placed eighth in state. That year, my goal was to try to be close enough that I could see him finish. I think I might have accomplished that once all year. I was usually not very close to him at all.
“My wife Brittany ran for Tupelo High School for the few years. We have a son, Cooper, who is just 1½. Although it’s hard to say if he’s a future runner, he sure has the fast walking part down.
“I’m 31 and have recently started running a little again. It’s more running to try to stay in some kind of shape than it is race preparation. I enjoy running in local races, but it’s usually for fundraisers and things like that.
“What coach Bain has done with the program here is truly remarkable, but the impact he has on the kids from our community is unmatched. There are many kids who are better for having been around such a caring and Christian man.”
John Gillis is the associate director of development of the NFHS. If you have any comments or articles ideas, please forward them to Gillis at firstname.lastname@example.org