Computer Science Staff Members Help Ignite Esports at Ole Miss

CS department chair Dawn Wilkins and administrative assistant Carrie Long see potential of gaming tourneys

Cray Pennison (left), president of the Ole Miss Esports club, is joined by Noel Wilkin, UM provost and executive vice chancellor, and Jason DeShong, president of MSU Esports, to announce the Esports Egg Bowl set for Oct. 13 in the Pavilion at Ole Miss. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

On Sept. 13, the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University announced the first-ever Esports Egg Bowl, an electronic matchup Oct. 13 in the Pavilion at Ole Miss between the two schools whose football rivalry stretches back to 1901.

The history of Ole Miss Esports is not nearly as lengthy. The club, designed to establish a community of gamers and promote competitive esports play on the UM campus, was founded in January 2017 by junior English major Cray Pennison, of Mandeville, Louisiana.

About a year-and-a-half ago, Pennison approached the UM Department of Computer and Information Science requesting financial support for Rebel Rumble 2017, a campus club gaming tourney. The department, under the direction of Chair Dawn Wilkins, again assisted with Rebel Rumble this spring, and the club’s momentum was ignited.

“The timing just seemed right,” said Carrie Long, administrative assistant for the department and a self-described “ally” of the club. “Esports is undoubtedly a very popular event worldwide and can be used in the university setting in multiple facets.

“It is a good team-building unit, much the same as any team sport; it can be used to help motivate students to participate in leading roles as well as collaborate with others working toward common goals.”

Scholarly pursuits, including research into programming, psychology, kinesiology and virtual reality, also can be linked to esports, Long said.

And esports can be supportive in assisting a student’s mental health.

“Our hope is this will help students find others in the community who have similar interests, as well as support their interest but also make them accountable for going to class and encouraging them to be more social,” Long said.

Long and Wilkins approached Provost Noel Wilkin about administration support for the club. It did not take much to persuade him.

“This is about embracing the future: the future of online gaming, the future of sports and the future of understanding how the online world brings society together,” Wilkin said. “The future is here, competition is changing and the need for new talent is emerging. Ole Miss is changing the world.”

As the esports conversation accelerated over the summer, the idea arose for an Esports Egg Bowl, with Ole Miss and MSU battling it out for esports supremacy in the state.

“The fact that Ole Miss pulled the trigger on (supporting an esports club) is a really smart move,” said Gage Angle, a junior economics major from Colorado Springs, Colorado, and vice president and co-founder of the Ole Miss Esports club. “They are taking it seriously. That’s making people realize that this is going to be real.”

The club, born out of a defunct League of Legends club on campus, convened with about five members at its first meeting. At a club social Aug. 23 in Brevard Hall, 85 people signed up for the club, with more than 100 students in attendance, chowing down on pizza and playing video games. More than 50 students attended the club’s first official fall meeting.

The explosion of the group mirrors the mushrooming popularity of esports around the globe. Newzoo, a games, esports and mobile market intelligence provider, forecasts that the total, global esports audience will grow from 395 million this year to 580 million by 2021. 

Newzoo also states that the global esports economy will grow to $905.6 million this year, a year-on-year growth of 38 percent.

The Ole Miss Esports club was founded in January 2017 to establish a community of gamers and promote competitive esports play on the UM campus. Photo by Shea Stewart/Ole Miss Communications

Games are played on a trio of platforms – mobile (smartphone and tablets), PC and console games – in genres that include fighting and multiplayer online battle arena, first-person shooter or real-time strategy games. Some of the most popular games are “Call of Duty,” “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive,” “Dota 2,” “League of Legends,” “Overwatch,” “Rocket League,” “Super Smash Bros. Melee” and “Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege.” 

Players go by game aliases. Pennison’s is “Syliris” because he likes the combination of sounds; Angle’s is “Geiji,” a Japanese pronunciation of his first name.

And while millions play the games, millions more watch online, thanks to sites such as Twitch and YouTube. Twitch, a subsidiary of Amazon, is a live-streaming video service and social site with an estimated daily viewership in the last 30 days of more than 1.1 million viewers. By comparison, ESPN – the leading U.S. basic cable sports network – had an average of 2.5 million total viewers in primetime for the week of Sept. 3.

Besides the free, live event sponsored by C Spire at the Pavilion, the Esports Egg Bowl will likewise stream online – time and place to be announced.

“One of the things I get is, ‘So you enjoy watching other people play video games?'” Pennison said. “I always joke back, ‘You like watching people play football as you sit on the couch?’ It’s the same thing.”

That growing worldwide fascination with esports, the popularity of which first bloomed in South Korea, is gaining notice in the U.S. ESPN has added esports to the growing list of sports it covers. And the Mississippi High School Activities Association added esports as a pilot program in 2018-19.

Esports also has become a varsity collegiate sport. In 2014, Robert Morris University in Illinois announced a scholarship-sponsored “League of Legends” team.

Since then, the esports scene has skyrocketed, with a national governing body known as the National Association of Collegiate Esports representing more than 90 institutions, ranging from tiny Culver-Stockton College in Missouri to larger schools such as the University of North Texas and Georgia State University.

In March, the University of North Georgia captured the first-ever Peach Belt Conference League of Legends Championship. The championship was the first of its kind in the nation as the PBC is the first NCAA conference to present a league title for esports.

The popularity of esports – competitive video game playing – is booming, with an estimated global audience of 395 million in 2018. Photo by Shea Stewart/Ole Miss Communications

Yes, the showdown will be a battle, because esports is competitive. The Ole Miss Esports club has finished highly ranked at some competitions, including two top 10 finishes in the Collegiate Battleground Association’s fall 2017 and spring 2018 PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds tournaments.

The idea is for the club to compete this year in the most popular esports games, with club members split into their respective games of interest and each game overseen by a chairman. Some games have multiple teams, and each team is coached by a captain.

Much like other team sports, esport captains develop game plans by researching opponents, searching for patterns in play or weaknesses, and poring over data. Players, especially in a multiplayer online battle arena game such as “League of Legends,” are always searching for that most efficient tactic.

“In the ‘Call of Duty’ team here, our practices consist of (playing training games against) other schools for at least 15 hours a week in-game, watching hours of video-on-demand to get intel on other school’s teams, and even writing down strategies and critiques of our own play to use in-game,” said Sergio Brack, alias “Physix,” a pre-pharmacy major from Chicago who is the club’s “Call of Duty” chairman.

All this takes time, and it takes a great amount of time to become even competent at a game. But esport players do not have to be athletic freaks of nature, able to hit a nasty 85 mph slider or slalom up and down a soccer field, dribbling the ball while avoiding opposing players.

“(Esports) seem more accessible than other sports,” Angle said. “You see athletes, and it is like, ‘Those guys are big and tall, and they have the genetics and they’ve been working out their whole lives,’ and then you see guys playing video games and it’s like, ‘Oh my God, I do that.’

“In esports, there is not much you can be born with for talent. You have to work hard. You have to get ahead of everybody.”

While athletic ability, beyond talents such as hand-eye coordination and quick reflexes, is not necessary for excelling at esports, a competitive spirit is beneficial.

“I noticed with esports, people who play competitively, when they were younger, they usually played sports so they have that competitive nature,” Pennison said. “And then they played video games, so it becomes where you can play the thing you really like to do – video games – and enjoy the high of being competitive and being good at it.”

Still, the games are essentially supposed to be fun, an escape from stress and the tasks of being a student. That is the role these games have played in Ole Miss Esports players’ lives since they started playing video games, which have been a near-constant since birth.

Austin Turner, a junior computer science major from Yazoo City, remembers playing as a child on his PlayStation, thinking it was the “coolest thing ever.” By high school, he was playing “League of Legends,” and when he arrived at UM, he started playing “Overwatch” for “hours on end with no end in sight.”

“For me, the joy is just the pure rush,” said Turner, the club’s “Overwatch” chairman. “I play competitive games and also survival games, so the rush for me comes when I am able to overpower another player in a game and get rewards from it.”

Esport players compete in a number of games, with some of the most popular being ‘Call of Duty,’ ‘Counter-Strike: Global Offensive,’ ‘League of Legends’ and ‘Overwatch.’ Here, Ole Miss students play ‘Super Smash Bros.’ Photo by Shea Stewart/Ole Miss Communications

So where does all this lead? Down the road to a National Collegiate Esports Tournament in a dedicated Ole Miss arena? (It’s not so far-fetched: The University of California at Irvine opened its UCI eSports Arena in September 2016.)

But first steps first, such as opening a practice room for Ole Miss Esports members, then maybe becoming an officially recognized sport and offering scholarships. Then the arena and national tournament.

Wilkin said UM will work toward establishing “sites where Ole Miss gamers can gather, practice and connect with expert gamers recreationally and in preparation for tournaments.”

“We will work toward establishing a competitive program that will enable our Rebel gamers to compete against the best collegiate gamers in the country. It is consistent with our efforts to build excellent programs that give students the knowledge and understanding necessary to enable them to unleash their potential and prepare them for the lifelong learning necessary in their careers.”

James Zhou, a junior managerial finance major from Madison who goes by the gamer alias “icytea,” sees a big future for Ole Miss Esports, especially with the university’s support.

“It’s still a long shot for any school, but hopefully we can become national contenders for multiple popular esports,” said Zhou, who is the club’s “League of Legends” chairman. “Universities from around the world have been hopping on the esports train.

“I definitely did not expect the amount of growth that we’ve had in the past few years, so props to everyone involved, especially the leadership.”

And by supporting the development of the Ole Miss Esports club, the university is doing more than creating a new team; it is giving students a new channel for developing their talents.

“Esports, here at Ole Miss, is an outlet for some very talented people to come and show off a skill that doesn’t involve having to be physically good at something,” Turner said. “This is an opportunity for people that may have social issues, physical issues, medical issues, etc., to come and show off that they don’t have to conform their bodies to a certain sport or face the negative stigma around gaming.

“We’re all geeks in some way or fashion but together in this organization, we can come together and push boundaries that have never been reached at Ole Miss.”

Arianne Hartono Aces Academics and Athletics

After winning the NCAA singles tennis championship, the Ole Miss graduate is going pro

Arianne Hartono is the ultimate student-athlete, having graduated summa cum laude from Ole Miss this May and won this year’s NCAA women’s singles tennis championship. Photo courtesy of Ole Miss Athletics

OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi student-athlete Arianne Hartono has faced such challenges as recuperating from a broken wrist her freshman year and missing as many as three out of five days of classes during the weeks when she had to travel to away matches.

Considering such challenges, Hartono’s accomplishments are all the more impressive – excelling equally in athletics and academics, she won this year’s NCAA women’s singles tennis championship and graduated summa cum laude in May with a major in psychology and minor in business administration.

She is the first women’s tennis player in the Ole Miss program to win the NCAA singles championship (Devin Britton won it in men’s tennis in 2009) and is also the first student-athlete in any sport at Ole Miss to be named a Honda Sports Award winner and the second player in program history to be named to the 2018 ITA Collegiate All-Star Team.

Hartono is philosophical about her success and quite willing to share the glory.

“I think it’s the process of it all,” said Hartono, a native of Meppel, Netherlands. “Obviously, you can’t become a national champion from one day to the other. There’s so much work that went into it.

“I believe that everything happened for a reason, even that injury I had my freshman year. That was part of the road I had to go on to, to be where I am right now. So I think all the work, all the effort, not just from me but everyone else that’s worked with me, worked with the team, has led up to this.”

Everyone else includes professors, administrators, coaches, family, teammates, and tutors and counselors/advisers at the FedEx Student-Athlete Academic Success Center.

“We have a wide range of services available to student-athletes for continued success,” said Derek Cowherd, senior associate athletics director for student-athlete development.

Those services include scheduling of tutorial support for upper-level courses, assisting with four-year graduation plans, monitoring NCAA eligibility and assisting with busy spring travel schedules.

Hartono is a special student-athlete and a credit to Ole Miss, Cowherd said.

“Zvonimir Babic (a player on the men’s tennis team) tweeted that she is an inspiration to all student-athletes across the nation. And she should be,” Cowherd said. “Her demeanor, friendship to her teammates, her grace in which she carries herself, humble but confident nature, her wonderful spirit are all testaments to how her parents raised her … and she can play tennis, too.”

Hartono’s drive to excel comes partly from a sense of responsibility.

“Every year, we come together as a team, and we sit down and set up goals for ourselves,” she said. “… I’m just grateful for everything that’s been given to me, and I want to make the most of it. I think especially this year, knowing it was the last opportunity to represent Ole Miss for one more season, I’m not playing for myself but for this greater entity, so to speak. It just gives you more motivation to push harder.

“Our coaches and advisers, they all tell us that we student-athletes, we’re all leaders, so we have to act like them. We are held accountable for everything that we do. Keeping that in mind, we try to show the best of ourselves.”

As for her classes, Hartono took a no-nonsense approach.

“I just sit down and do the work that needs to be done. At the beginning of the semester, the teachers tell you what the semester is going to look like, and I think that’s like, just listen to the teacher! Just listen to the teacher, and basically you’ll do well.”

Hartono said time management was the greatest challenge in tackling her classes, because she had to miss so many classes due to her tennis schedule that included not only matches but also two hours of practice and one hour of fitness or strength and conditioning each day.

She said she was lucky to have taken classes taught by supportive professors and named three professors in particular as her favorites: Matthew Reysen, associate professor of psychology; Kate Kellum, associate director of institutional effectiveness and assistant professor of psychology; and Scott A. Gustafson, director of the UM Psychological Services Center.

“I’d be falling behind, especially in the spring when we were in season; we’d be traveling so much,” Hartono said. “I’d meet up with Dr. Reysen all the time. He was always willing to help me out. … I liked Dr. Kate’s class (Applied Behavior Analysis) because it was so interactive. … Definitely, one of my other favorite teachers is Dr. G.”

And the feeling is mutual.

“Arianne was one of those students that only come along every five to 10 years in a professor’s career,” said Gustafson, who taught Hartono in two advanced psychology classes. “She clearly had prepared for her classes and asked questions based on her readings that would be more expected in an advanced graduate seminar than an undergraduate lecture hall.

“On a personal level, Arianne is one of those students that made me, as a professor, feel like my job was rewarding. Rather than being a passive part of the crowd, her interest and competency and hard work made me look forward to the classes she was in, because I felt like I was making a difference.”

Reysen agreed that Hartono is bright, personable and a pleasure to have in his Cognitive Psychology class.

“Arianne was an outstanding student who was always able to maintain a high level of academic excellence despite the numerous obligations that came with being a student-athlete,” he said.

Hartono did a good job of using the skills she learned in class to make the atmosphere around her more fun, Kellum added.

“Her ability to take what she was learning in class out into the world was really good,” she said.

Classes, studying and tennis took up most of Hartono’s time, but she did manage to be on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, composed of two or three representatives from each team on the Ole Miss campus.

“Our job was basically to keep up with NCAA rules, with regulations, whatnot, but also about student-athlete development, any areas that we could improve. … Another thing we were concerned with was community service. That’s one of the things I really enjoy doing because I believe it’s so important to give back for everything that we’ve been given here.”

Because she completed a lot of her classes and requirements in her freshman and sophomore years, Hartono had time in her last semester to do something else she truly loves.

“I love to bake, and especially knowing that I have a team of seven hungry athletes, it’s easy to get rid of stuff,” Hartono said. “Before a trip, I’d hop on the bus and have brownies, or Oreo balls and all this other stuff. They appreciate it, and it just makes me happy, and it’s relaxing at the same time.”

Path to the Win

Arianne Hartono

Hartono remembers a pivotal conversation she had when she was about 6 years old. She and her mom had stopped to pick up her 9-year-old brother, Adriaan, who was finishing his tennis practice, and she helped pick up the tennis balls.

“So, what do you do? What are you into?” her brother’s coach asked her.

“Well, I’m a ballet dancer,” answered Hartono, having just left a ballet lesson.

“Ballet? That’s nothing. Why don’t you try to play tennis?” the coach said.

And so she did, with support from her parents, Lieke and Okki Hartono, who had moved from Indonesia to the Netherlands in the 1990s. (Hartono speaks fluent Indonesian, Dutch and English, and took Chinese while at Ole Miss, reaching the conversational level. She also took French and German in high school.)

“(My parents) always told me, ‘As long as you love to play, we’ll support you in whatever you want to do,'” Hartono said. “With all the successes, they came to realize, ‘Oh, she’s actually good. She could be successful at it.'”

A love for tennis runs in Hartono’s family. Her uncle Deddy Tedjamukti and aunt Lukky Tedjamukti from Indonesia played professional tennis, and cousin Nadia Ravita played for the University of Kentucky women’s tennis team.

Hartono said her brother still enjoys tennis and is very supportive of her, though she has surpassed him in skill.

“I mean, he’s good, but he chose to focus more on his education instead, so he wasn’t practicing as intensely as I was. He would practice like twice a week, whereas I would practice four or five times a week. We were basically known as the Hartono tennis players around the region where we played. … I remember when I was younger, I tried so hard because I wanted to beat him so badly. But he’s a good sport, he can handle it,” she laughed.

Until college, Hartono trained at small clubs rather than tennis academies. She said she struggled to find sparring partners until she came to Ole Miss, where she suddenly had eight other women who were as good, if not better than her.

“I wouldn’t be where I am if it weren’t for them,” Hartono said. “When you spend so much time with a group like them, they become family.”

Mark Beyers, Ole Miss women’s tennis head coach, who is also from the Netherlands, recruited her, Hartono said.

“He watched me play, and one of his former players – she was from the same hometown as I was, and so we kind of got in touch that way. That’s one of the main reasons I chose Ole Miss. I just loved the campus. I loved the team, just the entire atmosphere.”

Trying to win tennis matches in the NCAA, where all players are top-notch, is pressure-filled, but Hartono remembers a key moment that helped her de-stress.

“Grant Roberts, our assistant coach, was on my court most of the time whenever I was playing. … In times of trouble, so to speak, we’d sit down on the break, and he’d come and we’d talk about strategies or whatever, but for me it was important to keep things simple. I tend to overthink or make things overcomplicated for myself, and that’s not necessary.

“In the finals, (Grant) would ask me, ‘So, what is our one word this tournament?’

“Fun” is the word that popped up.

“Because at the end of the day, I’ll play my best tennis when I’m having fun, when I’m enjoying the challenge. And so I think that’s the most important thing that happened, not winning the national championship. Of course, that’s great. I’m not complaining,” she laughed. “But I think that was the result of me enjoying what I was doing.

“That’s a great achievement for myself. I was able to put winning and the result aside, for me to know I was doing what I love. In anything anyone does, I think that’s just so important because, otherwise, why are you doing it? And to know that I can succeed at that is mind-blowing, unbelievable and amazing.”

Arianne Hartono is the first Honda Sports Award winner in Ole Miss history. With a record of 37-6 this season, she finished the year winning 17 straight matches. Photo courtesy of Ole Miss Athletics

What’s Next?

Hartono is going pro. After graduation, she went back to the Netherlands for a short while to spend time with her family and enjoy her mom’s cooking. She was scheduled to play her first professional match in Portugal and one in Indonesia, where she also planned to visit family.

She said as long as she loves to play, she’ll keep at it.

“If not, then I’ll find something else to do. That’s why I have a college degree,” she laughed.

She also plans to return to Ole Miss in the fall to visit with the tennis team and friends.

“I can never say goodbye to Ole Miss. We (she and her teammates) always tell each other, ‘Once a Rebel, always a Rebel.’ I truly believe that.”

Whatever successes and challenges lie ahead for Hartono, she can always look back at her college days and feel joy.

“At the end of the day, it’s not just about winning or losing,” she said. “It’s not just about holding that trophy. I got to spend four years of my life doing what I love.”

Annual Big Event Expected to Draw Thousands of Student Volunteers

Effort delivers service to the community while building relationships

Students give back to the community during the 2017 Big Event. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The largest day of community service each year at the University of Mississippi, known as the Big Event, already has thousands of students registered to say “thank you” to residents of Oxford and Lafayette County.

This year’s Big Event, set for Saturday (March 24), will begin at 8 a.m. at The Pavilion at Ole Miss. For the event, students who have volunteered will be placed in projects that may include painting, yard work, washing windows, cleaning, assisting the elderly and much more in an effort to give back to the community.

“The purpose of the Ole Miss Big Event is to dedicate a day of service to the community while building a relationship between students and community members,” said Savannah Smith, a senior from Corinth and this year’s event co-director. “By actively participating in these projects, we would like to instill the value of service in our peers.”

The Big Event began in 2011 with more than 1,200 students who participated in volunteer projects across the community. The following year, the effort enjoyed a large increase in both volunteers and projects, resulting in more than 3,000 students signed up and nearly 300 service projects.

“As far as recruiting volunteers to sign up this year, our volunteer recruitment subcommittee has worked really hard to contact registered student organizations to encourage their members to sign up for the event,” said Mary Morgan Coburn, a senior from Jackson and a co-director of the event.

Roughly 2,150 student volunteers are registered to serve this year, but the committee hopes to have walk-in volunteers Saturday.

Both Smith and Coburn are enthusiastic about the upcoming event and have set their goals on having the best turnout yet. Their hopes are that by getting students to participate in the event, it will encourage them to volunteer their time to other service projects in the future.

“We have also reached out to EDHE and Honors 101/102 classes,” said Austin Spindler, a senior from Savannah, Tennessee, and Big Event assistant director. “In addition to that, we’ve talked to a number of individual students on business row and have promoted sign-up for the event with signs and posters around campus.”

Major corporate sponsors for the Big Event, such as Chipotle and other businesses throughout the community, have contributed to the effort.

Students who are unable to register are welcome to walk in before 9 a.m. Saturday to be assigned a service project.

For more information about the Big Event, visit

RebelTHON Fundraiser Again Exceeds Expectations

UM dance marathon raises more than $265,000 for Blair E. Batson Children's Hospital

UM students dance the night away at this year’s RebelTHON benefit, raising a record $265,912 for the Blair E. Batson Children’s Hospital. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The annual RebelTHON dance marathon at the University of Mississippi exceeded all expectations from years past by raising a record-breaking $265,912.30 to aid children in need of medical treatments.

After last year’s fundraising goal of $150,000 was exceeded by nearly $20,000, the RebelTHON committee set a goal of $225,000 to benefit the Blair E. Batson Children’s Hospital at the UM Medical Center. As the marathon came to an end at 3 a.m. Sunday (Feb. 25), many participants and family members anxiously awaited as the committee took the stage to announce that the latest goal was exceeded by $40,000.

“Last year, we were at a much smaller place in the Turner Center, and this year we were able to be in the Tad Pad for the event, which was so much better,” said Hailey Cooper, a UM senior from Madison and 2017-18 RebelTHON president. “It was much bigger, and we had more miracle families that came, and had gotten more registrants than we have had in quite a few years.”

As the event began at 3 p.m. Saturday (Feb. 24) at the Tad Smith Coliseum, Ole Miss students began a 12-hour nonstop dance marathon, during which they were only able to kneel as they listened to families and patients share their mesmerizing stories. At the beginning of each hour, different themes were set to keep the participants’ energy high.

Aside from dancing, UM students played games with visiting children from Batson and wrote uplifting notes to those children who were not able to attend.

With the students’ energy radiating through the Tad Pad, many brought multiple outfit changes to match the set theme for each hour of the marathon. From face paint and glitter to pajamas and patriotic attire, the students kept the atmosphere limitless all night.

“RebelTHON has been a resounding success story for our university, with this year reaching a whole new level of excellence,” Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said. “There is something particularly rewarding about student-led service and fundraising, especially for such a noble and worthwhile cause as the Blair Batson Children’s Hospital.

“It is a tremendous reflection of our students’ passion and commitment to having a positive impact in the world and resonates with our flagship mission of building healthy and vibrant communities.”

Nicki Dunaway, of Vicksburg, attended RebelTHON with her daughter Hannah, who was diagnosed with cystic hygroma, or recurring nonmalignant tumors, and has endured 40 surgeries since she was just 6 days old.

“We have seen what the money goes to, and it’s inspiring to see how devoted everyone is,” Dunaway said. “We will always be grateful, and the money goes to such a wonderful cause, and it really does save lives. We will never be able to thank everyone enough.”

Last year, the money raised went toward the renovation of the hospital’s Children’s Cancer Clinic, which had not been updated since the 1990s.

“They have been planning this event since the end of last year’s event,” said Andrew Russell, Children’s Miracle Network coordinator at Batson. “This year, the money will go to the new building, which is a $180 million project. It will have a new heart center, PICU and some operating rooms as well.”

Batson Children’s Hospital averages 9,000 admissions a year, and nearly 80,000 children are treated in its clinics and emergency room annually. Patients come from all of Mississippi’s 82 counties to receive comprehensive medical care.

With this week’s RebelTHON a success, the election process of the committee for next year will begin within a few weeks.

Ole Miss Outdoors’ Dog Sledding Trip a Howling Good Time

Excursion to Ely, Minnesota, also includes visit to International Wolf Center

Dog sledding in Ely, Minnesota. Photo courtesy of Logan Vaughan

It’s my first time dog sledding, and I’m standing on a platform, bundled up like a polar explorer and holding onto a bar behind a sled while five Canadian Inuit dogs eagerly wait to hear “Ready, hike!”

Most people think of “Mush” as the command for dog sledding. But “Ready, hike!” is better. “Ready” gets the dogs’ attention. Whether they’re chewing on a paw or socializing with one another or peeing on a bush, they stand at attention as soon as they hear that word.

The dogs react to “Hike” like racers when the starting pistol is fired. They take off and pull the sled up and down trails in snowy woods of pine and spruce. I’m just along for the ride.

A dog-sledding trip to Ely, Minnesota, was organized by Ole Miss Outdoors, a program of the Department of Campus Recreation. The nine-day trip, Jan. 12-20, cost only $600 per person, thanks to the planning of trip leaders-graduate students-intrepid adventurers Francis Liaw and Alison Walker.

Twelve of us, mostly Ole Miss undergraduate and graduate students, went on this adventure. And it was an adventure. To get to Ely, which is 1,148 miles and almost a 22-hour drive from Oxford – you’re practically in Ontario, Canada – we traveled in two Ole Miss SUVs and stayed in unique Airbnbs along the way.

People in Wisconsin and Minnesota seemed both baffled and tickled that a group from Mississippi traveled so far up north in the winter, and everyone we met was friendly and hospitable. One morning, we stopped for breakfast at the Milk Jug Cafe in Ontario, Wisconsin. There, a local named Tor Edess told us that he lived in the town because he had run out of money during vacation and never left. He handed out a business card that read “Tor Edess Music Co.: Live Country Music, ‘for weddings & funerals & most other events in between.'”

When we reached Ely, snow was falling heavily and covering the roads. One student from a Mississippi town commented that he had never seen this much snow. The cabin we stayed in, part of Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge, was comfortable and cozy. Besides several bedrooms, it had one big dining table that seated all 12 of us, a great room with a gas fireplace, and modern kitchen and bathrooms.

We met our main guides, Isaak Ridge and Joe Gleiter, who were not only there for the dog sledding but also checked to make sure we had appropriate clothes, brought and made breakfast and dinner for us (including special meals for the vegetarian among us), as well as shared the meals with us each day.

Isaak loves to talk about everything and anything, and Joe is a mellow surfer-type dude from Illinois who loves salsa at every meal. He also enjoyed snow cream for the first time, which some of our group prepared one night, and we all wondered if snow cream is a Southern specialty since those among us from outside the South had never heard of it. We also met an unexpected guest, Kayuk, one of the sledding dogs, who enjoyed being petted and exploring the cabin.

Before leaving the cabin on the first day of dog sledding, we went over the “Do’s” and “Don’ts” of driving a dog team, such as “DO stand firmly on the brake when stopped or your team may take off without you” and “DON’T panic if you lose the sled – yell “LOOSE SLED” and the guides will get it.” Besides “Ready, hike,” we also learned the all-important “Whoa,” as well as “Gee” (go right) and “Haw” (go left).

We then dressed for the -4 degrees Fahrenheit weather (we were lucky since the temperature had dropped to -30 the week before) and went to the dog kennel. I carried my phone to take photos, but I guess it wasn’t made to function in subzero temperatures. It immediately froze and turned off.

Front row: Wintergreen guides Joe Gleiter (left) and Isaak Ridge, and Ole Miss dog sledders Alison Walker, Rachel Whitehorn, Benita Whitehorn, Logan Vaughan, Pete Dawkins and Sarah Pringle; back row: Noah Allen, Lilli Gordon, Johnathan Taylor, Ashleen Williams, Francis Liaw and Tyler Tyree

At the kennel, we were asked to set up six dog sleds (two drivers each), harness our dogs and then hook them up on a line in front of the sled. For me, this was the hardest part! All these dogs love people, but they didn’t necessarily love one another. Sometimes, we had to pull at the dogs to keep them from fighting each other. It took about an hour, but my sled partner and I were ready with lead dogs Gabe and Millie, swing dog Inuk and wheel dogs Mudro and Okra, as were the other members of the group with their sled-dog teams, and our guides, who were traveling on cross-country skis.

(Note: While Siberian Huskies are known as the fastest sled dogs and are the breed of choice for racers, these handsome, thick-furred Canadian Inuit dogs are known as hardworking. Also, we were told to pair male and female dogs on the line since the males tend to fight and the same goes for the females.)

What a scenic and crazy ride. We rode through miles of wooded trails. Sometimes it was peaceful, and I could just enjoy the beauty of the surrounding northern woods, part of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness*, made up of more than a million acres of wilderness and waterways. Other times, I felt like I was in a Space Mountain-type bumper car without a seatbelt when the sled would careen off a tree and/or the sled would tilt, and I’d have to lean the other way or go flying off – that was scary.

When going up steep hills, my sled partner or I would lessen the load for the dogs by jumping off the sled. Whenever it was my turn, I’d usually fall, and it was hard to stand back up and keep up with the sled while wearing heavy clothes and boots in powdery, foot-deep snow. Sometimes we went downhill, including one time when we had to duck to avoid an overhanging tree branch (and a major concussion).

More often than not, when we stopped, our dogs literally HOWLED with impatience. We would then pet and praise them to calm them down. They all have endearing personalities and habits. Inuk was steadfast and calm, for instance, while Mudro likes to bury his face in the snow any chance he gets.

We stopped for a campfire lunch, which also gave the dogs a chance to rest. We gathered twigs for the fire, and the guides cooked sugar-cinnamon bagels in a skillet and handed out cups of cocoa, frozen cheese sticks, meat sticks and Snickers bars. It was hard, if not impossible, to unwrap the snacks while wearing thick woolen mittens and outer mitts, but my hands instantly became red and frozen when I took the mittens off. That was the coldest part of the trip, just sitting still.

Toward the end of the day, we rode on the vast, frozen White Iron Lake. At one point I jumped off the sled and tried to walk a while and realized it would be frightening to have to walk across this lake alone, battered by snow, wind and cold, trundling along in my heavy boots and clothes. It wasn’t like a walk in the park. It was more like a walk in a frozen desert. Dog sledding is truly useful for those who live in harsh winter climates.

Just past sunset, we finally unharnessed the dogs and leashed them at a wooded spot down the hill from our cabins in the dark. We put out hay for them to lie on and gave them food and water. 

Back at the toasty warm cabin, I don’t think I ever appreciated warmth, food and sleep as much as I did that night.

The next day, after breakfast, we went out on our second dog-sledding adventure. Unlike the previous cloudy day, this day was sunny and several degrees warmer. In fact, it got up to 14 degrees, the same temperature as Oxford that day.

Video by Lilli Gordon

During another campfire lunch, the dogs lay down in the snow and napped peacefully. We went on a different, even more challenging but fun trail that included a long downhill run. I was getting the hang of this dog sledding thing. It was only when all the dogs were back at the kennel that I realized that I’d only known them for such a short time and I’d miss them.

The day didn’t end there, though. The end of a dog sledding trip at Wintergreen includes an “optional” activity. We put on our bathing suits and socks and went into a very hot sauna, six at a time. Then when we felt like we might faint, we ran down a hill and jumped in icy water, cut out with a chainsaw. It sounds crazy, but all 12 of us did it, and it truly did feel exhilarating.

The next day, we all received diplomas for completing our dog-sledding adventure. Then we packed up and left for the International Wolf Center, also in Ely, where we stayed overnight and were able to watch a pack of “ambassador” wolves in a wooded enclosure though an observation window, as well as learn all about wolves through the center’s educational program.

The following day, we headed home, staying at two Airbnb houses along the way in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and St. Louis, and we made it back to Oxford’s balmy 40-degree weather. On a trip like this, we all got to learn a bit about one another, had a lot of laughs and shared an unforgettable trip. We even learned a secret handshake, but I can’t tell you what it is because it’s secret.

More about Ole Miss Outdoors

Past weeklong Ole Miss Outdoors trips have including backpacking in the Grand Canyon, skiing and snowboarding in the Colorado Rockies, kayaking and snorkeling in the Florida Keys, and another dog sledding trip in Canada. OMOD also schedules daylong and weekend hiking, caving, rock climbing and whitewater rafting trips as well as other types of trips.

For a spring 2018 schedule and more information about Ole Miss Outdoors, go to

*On our first night in Ely, some of us attended an environmental lecture about efforts to save the Boundary Waters from being poisoned by sulfide-ore copper mining. For more information about that effort, go to

Benita Whitehorn is an assistant director/editor in University Communications.

6 Reasons to Go to the 2018 Black Alumni Reunion

Comedy show, concert and awards gala among highlights of weekend event

If the expanded series of events is any indication, the 18th University of Mississippi Black Alumni Reunion, scheduled for March 1-4, will be the biggest and best one ever.

“We hopefully added something for everyone,” said Torie Marion-White (BSCJ 07), assistant director of alumni affairs. “We have a great offering of activities and events and hope they will be a big draw for the 2018 reunion. Continued support from Ole Miss Alumni Association members will ensure this reunion’s success for years to come.”

Begun by former assistant alumni director Bonita Terry-Malone (BA 88), the Black Alumni Reunion was part of a strategic plan to not only draw African-American alumni back to campus, but to also get them involved in and committed to influencing policy decisions, funding scholarship opportunities and networking. By the third reunion, the number of dues-paying African-American alumni had increased by more than 200 percent. Since then, the reunion remains the largest registered event sponsored by the Alumni Association.

“I’m really pleased that as the reunion has evolved and the participation of black alumni at Ole Miss has skyrocketed,” said Terry-Malone, who lives in Memphis, Tennessee, and works with the Salvation Army, “several other components of that strategic plan – such as the Ben Williams Minority Alumni Scholarship, the Black Alumni Advisory Council and the Black Alumni Newsletter – have also been realized. All these contribute to the ongoing involvement and commitment of black alumni to Ole Miss.”

This year’s weekend gathering offers fun for everyone – from baby boomers to millennials and everyone in between. Here are six reasons why alumni should register and plan to attend:

  • It’s affordable: Registration for inactive Alumni Association members is $200, which includes a one-year membership to the Ole Miss Alumni Association. Registration for active Alumni Association members is $150.
  • Career Center Diversity Career Expo: Join alumni and other representatives from public, private and government sectors at noon on March 1 to network for career opportunities. If you would like to represent your company or organization, please email Toni Avant (BA 97, MA 97) at for registration details.
  • Stand-up comedy show: Featuring Billy Sorrells and Oxford’s very own Karlous Miller of the hit show “Wild ’n Out” hosted by JJ Williamson. Begin the weekend in style March 1 with a 7 p.m. performance in Fulton Chapel.
  • ‘Full Course Love’ brunch theater experience: This March 3 event at the Powerhouse is a presentation of “Full Course Love,” written and produced by 2017 DOSF (Diversity On Stage and Film) and Artsy award winner Princeton James Echols. The show will take you on a memorable journey of love, drama and comedy. Patrons will enjoy an afternoon of theater, spoken word, music and comedy that includes an exquisite three-course dining experience.
  • Greek show: See your favorite frats and sorors turn up on March 3 beginning at 8 p.m. in the Tad Smith Coliseum.
  • Black Alumni Awards Gala: Starts at 6 p.m. on March 3 in the Gertrude Castellow Ford Ballroom at The Inn at Ole Miss. The banquet will celebrate our history and honor our heroes. It also offers a chance to reunite with classmates from the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and ’00s.

Parties, dances, tours, panel discussions and a devotional service are also scheduled. Visit, or contact Torie Marion-White at 662-915-7375 for more information.



Debra J. Moore Bids Farewell to UM

Associate professor of social work, field education director retires

After having served the University of Mississippi faithfully for more than two decades, Debra J. Moore (MA 98, PhD 06) decided to retire at the end of 2017. Twenty-one years ago, she started at the university by teaching a couple of social work courses, and that successful experience led to full-time employment as an assistant professor.

“I accepted the full-time teaching position after teaching two semesters on campus,” Moore said. “I found that I really enjoyed the students. I found the Department of Social Work to be accepting of our students, and I wanted to be a part of a faculty that was making a difference in Mississippi.”

Moore graduated from Tupelo High School in 1975. She earned her Bachelor of Social Work from Mississippi State University in 1978 and her Master of Social Work from the University of Southern Mississippi in 1981.

“Before joining the Department of Social Work, I specifically worked as a clinical social worker,” Moore said. “I worked for Region III Mental Health (Lifecore) in Tupelo as a therapist, for SAFE (Shelter and Assistance in Family Emergencies) Inc. in Tupelo and as an outreach social worker for the Mississippi State Psychiatric Hospital.”

Moore went on to serve as a clinical director for Professional Counseling Services and the Family Care Center in St. Robert, Missouri. Before moving to Missouri, she worked as a therapist with Aurora Mental Health, in Aurora, Colorado.

“I was hired as an assistant professor at the university in 1996,” Moore said. “I served as the field education director, was tenured and promoted to associate professor in 2003 and served as interim chair during the 2011-12 academic year, after which I returned to the field education director position.”

Moore’s promotion to interim chair was a moment that stands out in the memory of Teresa Carithers, interim dean of the School of Applied Sciences.

“This was a very sudden, unexpected request that showed her willingness to rise to the challenge to support her colleagues at an important time,” Carithers said. “The social work profession, like so many others in our school, is a very high-demand, service-focused profession. So I always express my greatest wishes for the best opportunities and well-deserved rest retirement can provide.”

Moore, who lives in Taylor, said she considers her three daughters to be her greatest achievement.

“Tanya, my oldest, is a bookkeeper with the Louisiana SPCA, and Kiki and Jonalyn both work for the Veterans Administration Hospital in Las Vegas,” she said. “To me, my daughters are simply amazing.”

Moore also has six grandchildren and two great-grandsons. She enjoys reading, traveling, shopping, attending movies, cooking, as well as “caring for my fur babies and spoiling my grandchildren.”

Professionally, Moore received the 2005 Thomas Crowe Outstanding Faculty Award.

“A former faculty member, Jo Ann O’Quin, nominated me,” she said. “It was such an honor. But I have to give credit to my B.S.W. students. Together, we raised over $10,000 to sponsor a Feed the Children truck for families residing in Lafayette, Panola, Yalobusha and Calhoun counties.”

Following her retirement, Moore said she plans to work with the Family Resource Center in Oxford, and, later on, she may explore adjunct teaching.


Mae Bertha Carter’s Legacy

Seven of civil rights icon’s children earned UM degrees

Mae Bertha Carter’s high-profile battle to end school segregation in the Mississippi Delta in the 1960s led to her home being sprayed with bullets, but, ultimately, eight of her children graduated from the previously all-white Drew High School. Seven of her children went on to earn degrees from the University of Mississippi. 

The Carter family’s lawsuit filed against Drew, Mississippi, schools in 1967, with the help of an NAACP legal team, struck final blows to segregation in Mississippi. The family’s story was chronicled in national news reports and is also the focus of the book Silver Rights by Constance Curry.

Mae Bertha Carter died in 1999 after a long life of community activism. The New York Times opted to write an obituary on the important civil rights movement figure. Today, a red maple tree named for her stands in the Lyceum Circle near Carrier Hall at Ole Miss. It’s appropriate because the matriarch was adamant she wanted all of her children to get their degrees from the university, her daughter, Deborah Carter Smith, said.

“She knew the University of Mississippi was the best university in the state and that’s where she wanted us to go,” she said. “I think about her all the time. She was proud of us, and she would let us know that we did well.”

Smith, who works as a senior accountant in the Ole Miss bursar’s office, is a 1981 graduate of the university who has worked at Ole Miss for 36 years. Her siblings Larry Carter, Stanley Carter, Gloria Carter Dickerson, Pearl Carter Green Owens, Beverly Carter and Carl Carter all attended Ole Miss.

Mae Bertha married Matthew Carter in 1939 and raised 13 children. The couple sharecropped on a plantation in Sunflower County.

The Civil Rights Act in 1964 effectively desegregated schools, but Mississippi enacted a “freedom of choice” law, which allowed black parents to be intimidated into keeping their kids from the white schools. It didn’t work on Mae Bertha Carter. In 1965, she and Matthew Carter enrolled their children in the local schools. The Carter kids became the only black students there.

After they broke the racial barrier, the owner of the plantation where the family lived and farmed cotton told the Carters they’d get a better education at then all-black schools. He asked them to withdraw. Mae Bertha Carter’s response was to put a record player out on her porch. She played one of President John F. Kennedy’s speeches on civil rights loud enough so the plantation owner could hear it while he spoke to Matthew Carter in the yard. She later referred to the plantation owner’s advice when talking to her husband, saying, “I birthed those children and bore the pain. He cannot tell me what to do about my children.”

The couple faced much opposition not just from the plantation owner but also from the community. Their home was shot up in the middle of the night. Eventually, they were even kicked off the plantation.

While the Carter kids were attending Drew schools, NAACP attorney Marian Wright Edelman represented the family in its challenge to the “freedom of choice” law, and they won the suit in 1969. This knocked down the final barrier to ending school segregation in Mississippi.

Their struggle to get an education and eventually overturn laws that allowed segregation created a tight bond between the Carters.

“After sharing that experience, we all became really, really close,” Deborah Carter Smith said. “We are still really close.”

Gloria Carter Dickerson enrolled in the Drew schools when she was in seventh grade. The Carter children had many bad days at school, but their mother would sing them “freedom songs” to lift their spirits. Pep talks were also common in the Carter home.

“We would hear all this bad talk,” Dickerson said. “We would hear them say how stupid we were. We didn’t fall for that because Mama would tell just us, ‘You are a great person.’ She let us know how special we were. Her words were powerful enough that we didn’t listen to the others.”

After five years, she graduated and enrolled in Ole Miss and earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration. She became a certified public accountant. After a career with businesses and nonprofits, she retired in 2010 and moved back to Drew.

Gloria Carter Dickerson now runs the Mae Bertha Carter Learning Center in Drew and also the nonprofit We2gether Creating Change, which helps local students with the skills they need to attend college. Her conviction comes from the understanding that her mother was right about the importance of an education.

“She always said education is the key to a good quality of life,” Dickerson said. “My mother rubbed off on me. I believe what she said. Education helped me improve my life. We don’t live in poverty anymore.”

Pearl Carter Owens said receiving her Ole Miss degree allowed her to work for Energy Transfer Partners, which is a Fortune 500 natural gas and propane company, right out of college. She’s grateful her mother was adamant that she attend the university.

“I was recommended to this company by a friend,” Pearl Carter Owens said. “They asked me to come in for an interview. After I arrived, the manager took one look at me and said, ‘If you can get a degree from Ole Miss, I know you can do this job. The job is yours if you want it.’”

This May, she will have been with the company 40 years. She said she believes her mom’s pep talks played a big role in her success.

“My mother always told me how great I am,” she said. “She said when you begin to feel different, look in the mirror and say, ‘I am great.’ She was an amazing mom.”

She said she has always strived to be a supportive parent like her mother was.

Pearl Carter Owens’ daughter, Latoya Green, is an Oxford native, who earned a management information systems degree from Ole Miss in 2002. After college, she went to work in tech for Walmart and designed software for their checkout systems, and maintained it. Today, she works for, where she is responsible for performance of its global retail systems. She is based in Seattle.

She marvels at how much easier getting an education was for her when compared to her mother and the other Carter children in Drew. Latoya Green grew up admiring her grandmother and what she accomplished.

“She was one of the biggest role models in my life,” Green said. “She did so much for us to get here.”



Welcome Letter

Dear Alumni,

As the liaison for the Black Alumni Advisory Council, it is my distinct honor to personally invite you back to our campus on March 1-4, 2018, for our Black Alumni Reunion. This weekend will give you the opportunity to explore the remarkable progress that has taken place here at the University of Mississippi and to connect with current African-American students to strengthen the Ole Miss alumni network.

I believe it is our duty as alumni to create opportunities for young and aspiring students who want to blaze their own successful paths after college. That’s why programs like our Reunion Awards Gala are so important. We all had people who helped us along the way, and now we are charged to do the same for those students coming behind us.

The members of the Black Alumni Advisory Council and the Ole Miss Alumni Association, as well as everyone here at the University of Mississippi, look forward to welcoming you home for the 2018 Black Alumni Reunion. In the meantime, let me know what I can do to assist you with your plans to attend what is always a joyous and memorable event.

Torie Marion

Assistant Director, Alumni Affairs


Wiz Khalifa to Perform at Pavilion during Welcome Week

Concert is for Ole Miss students only, not open to the public

Wiz Khalifa

OXFORD, Miss. – Rapper Wiz Khalifa will perform a private concert for University of Mississippi students at The Pavilion at Ole Miss at 9 p.m. Aug. 25.

The concert is part of Welcome Week and is made possible by the UM Student Activities Association. The opener for the concert will be announced later.

Tickets will be uploaded to Ole Miss student IDs, so students must have their valid Ole Miss ID for admission. Students can enter at the north entrance on All-American Drive only. Seating is general admission and the floor is standing room only.

All policies regarding security and behavior at The Pavilion at Ole Miss will be in effect for the concert. Students will not be allowed to re-enter if they leave, and only clear bags no larger than 12x12x6 inches will be permitted.

For a Wiz Khalifa press kit, visit For more information or assistance related to a disability, contact the Ole Miss Student Union at 662-915-1044 or