Day 5 of 8 – 6.0 Miles in Oxford, Mississippi

Oxford, Mississippi has been on my shortlist of towns to visit for quite some time. Having visited nearly 100+ campuses, many people have mentioned to me that a trip to Ole Miss is a must. The quintessential college town from what they say. When I was planning this year’s run, I knew that I wanted to make it to Oxford. The only trick about the trip would be that Megabus does not run from Memphis to Oxford or from Oxford to Birmingham. A little improvisation would need to be made to make it happen.

Ben Boden was kind enough to drive me from Memphis to Oxford, about an a hour and twenty minute drive. Ben and I arrived in Oxford and headed to its fabled square where I had planned to meet my great friend Sparky Reardon, my host while in Oxford. Wow, the Oxford Square is amazing. Literally a square, it is the hub of the city and it is full of charming stores, restaurants, bars and its impressive old courthouse. Five minutes on the Square will make you want to stay for days.

Ben and I met Sparky and his buddy Vernon at Ajax for dinner. Ajax is owned by an Ole Miss Phi Delt and does not disappoint. A traditional meal of catfish and greens arrived at my table. So good. While at dinner, I learned that Vernon is the uncle of the Manning boys. Yes, those Manning boys. Following dinner, we bid adieu to Ben and headed to the Tad Smith Coliseum, or the “Tad Pad” to watch Ole Miss take on Alabama.

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Ole Miss has one of the most entertaining college basketball players to watch in the nation – Marshall Henderson. I’ve never seen such an animated player before. Plus, he shoots lights out. It was fun to see his style as you don’t see many like him. This clip explains his mentality.

Following the game, Sparky and I headed to his house. Man, I was pooped. I had been up since 1am with a nine mile run in the pouring rain under my belt. Seriously pooped.

I slept for six hours and woke up in the morning for my run. Sparky had lined up two of his cousins (also Ole Miss Phi Delts) to run with me that day. Bret Beauchamp and Charlie Cascio proved to be awesome running buddies and provided for many great laughs throughout the run, including one big laugh when they heard how I say the word Pecan. Both guys are remarkable runners as Bret runs the Boston Marathon each year in sub-3 hours and Charlie ran track and cross-country for Ole Miss. I even learned that Bret has been known to run around town in December dressed up as Santa Claus. I find this to be quite awesome.

We started our run at Rowan Oak, also known as the William Faulkner House. William Faulkner was an American writer and Nobel Prize laureate from Oxford, Mississippi. His house is now owned by the University of Mississippi and is used for a variety of things. Here, I thanked my colleague Luke Benfield. I wanted to thank Luke here as it reminded me greatly of Luke. Luke is a Southern Gentleman himself and a reader/writer. Luke is doing tremendous things in the world of education for Phi Delta Theta. Thanks Luke!

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Bailey Wood’s Trail began its life as part of William Faulkner’s home and connects Rowan Oak to the University. Faulkner drew inspiration for his writing from the woods, and wrote on the trail. Here, I thanked Sparky for his extreme generosity.

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I like to brag a bit about my friend Sparky Reardon. I consider Sparky to be a mentor (as do many Phis) and have heard him deliver many, many inspiring speeches over the years to thousands of undergraduate Phi Delts at our conferences. He is a moving speaker and is the Dean of Students at Ole Miss. When you Google “southern gentleman”, Sparky’s face should appear. I quickly learned that walking around Oxford, Mississippi with Sparky is like walking around with the Governor. I sure as heck know that Sparky wouldn’t be able to get away with anything in Oxford, as everyone knows him!

My favorite Sparky moment was seeing him on one of ESPN’s commercials. The piece is hilarious. He’s the guy in the suit that talks real fast.

The three of us ran Bailey Wood’s Trail to the University.

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Our next stop was the Castellow Ford Center for the Performing Arts on campus, the home of the first 2008 Presidential Debate between Barack Obama and John McCain. Here, I thanked Kelly Derickson, a colleague of mine at Phi Delt. Kelly and I work together on the Fraternity’s communication efforts, and I thought it to be only fitting to thank her here. Her husband Tim is a member of the Ohio House of Representatives from the 53rd district, which includes Oxford, Ohio.

If you love civil rights history, you will love this article in the New York Times about Ole Miss, the recent debate, and how the community has progressed greatly over the years.

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From the Ford Center, we ran to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, the home of the Ole Miss Rebel football team. There is much buzz about Ole Miss football as they just landed one of the top recruiting classes in the country. Expect great things from them in the SEC in the near future.

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Here, I thanked the Brannon family once again. I thanked them here, because I wanted to honor their connection with an Iowa football legend, who was tragically killed a few years back. Ed Thomas was a legendary high school football coach at Applington-Parkersburg, a collection of small towns known for their strong football team. The city has put four men in the NFL, which is astonishing for its size. The community witnessed great tragedy in 2008 and 2009. In 2008, a tornado demolished the community of Parkersburg wiping out much of the city. A year later, their beloved football coach was murdered. Jason and his family are from Parkerburg, and Jason’s sister is married to one of Ed Thomas’ sons. The family attended the ESPYs a few years back when Coach Thomas was recognized at the awards show. I tell this story, because I thought about the Brannons a great deal when this all was going on.

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We ran from the football stadium to the chapter house of Phi Delta Theta’s Mississippi Alpha Chapter. Greek life is huge at Ole Miss, and the houses are amazing. While I didn’t intend to, I woke up my buddy Matthew Porchivina to say hi. Matthew is the son of Rudy and Deb Porchivina. Rudy is a Past President of the General Council of Phi Delta Theta and a good friend. Deb is one of my favorite Iowa Hawkeyes. It’s so fun to see Matthew thriving as an undergraduate Phi Delt and pulling off a Brooks Brothers robe. He’ll be taking me halfway to Birmingham in a few hours, and for that, I’m extremely grateful.

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At the house, the guys directed me to the plaque below, honoring my buddy Sparky.

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A young Phi Delt then took a picture of Bret, Charlie and me in front of the house. Here, I thanked the brothers of Mississippi Alpha.

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From the Phi Delt house, we ran to Sorority Row where as you can guess, many of the University’s sorority houses are located. They are quite the structure. We took the picture quickly as we hoped nobody would see three grown men in tights taking pictures of the sorority houses at 8:00am in the morning.

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We then headed to the heart of campus, a place where tailgating is done best during the football season. The Grove is magnificent, and I can only imagine how much greater it would be stacked with Ole Miss fans during the fall. Here, I thanked my good friend Moe Stephens underneath the Walk of Champions sign. Moe is on the Fraternity’s General Council and has become a great friend over the years. Thanks Moe!

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At one end of the Grove is the Lyceum, the University’s first building and structure that is on the University’s logo. How about that for an awesome campus building? Here, I thanked Sparky again. Are you seeing a theme here?

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We also ran past one of the well-known 18 mph traffic signs at Ole Miss, a dedication to Archie Manning who wore #18 for Ole Miss. There are also 10 mph signs on campus in honor of Eli.

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On our way to Oxford Square, we passed another sign worth highlighting. Delta Gamma Fraternity is the sister organization of Phi Delta Theta and was founded at Ole Miss.

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Our next stop was the Square. Here I thanked my sister and brother-in-law in front of Square Books. Square Books is one of the neatest independently-owned book stores in the country. I found it fitting to thank my sister here, as we grew up with a librarian mother.

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Right across the street stands the Oxford Square Courthouse, right in the middle of everything. Here, I thanked Sparky again.

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Upon leaving the Square, I had to take a picture with the William Faulker statue. Guy was just staring at me.

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We ran back to the car, and the guys took me by the local cemetery to see Faulkner’s grave before dropping me off at Sparky’s. It did not disappoint. As you can tell, local residents still like to have a cocktail with Mr. Faulkner.

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After a quick shower, Sparky treated me to breakfast at Big Bad Breakfast. I had a feeling that I would enjoy it. And I did, a little too much. I had the “Good Old Boy” omelet, cheese grits and a biscuit. So much for those lost calories.

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Sparky was even kind enough to buy a BBB t-shirt for me. I couldn’t resist picking up this one.

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My time in Oxford is quickly coming to an end as I’ll be making my way to Birmingham this afternoon. I had a blast. Thanks again to Sparky, Vernon, Bret and Charlie for a memorable experience. I will be back.

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