Most dominant Mississippi high school sports team in history?
South Panola once won 89 straight football games and five straight state championships at the state’s highest level. Those teams were so good that people began calling them the University of South Panola.
We’ve had dominant teams with sustained excellence in basketball, baseball, and track and field from time to time as well.
Don’t look now but tiny Oak Hill Academy in West Point — 364 students, grades K-12 — recently won its sixth straight state championship in the sport of golf.
Says Oak Hill principal and athletic director Phil Ferguson, formerly a head football coach at Bruce and Tupelo: “We’ve become the South Panola of high school golf.”
That’s not overstating matters — at all.
“I think it’s safe to say that these recent Oak Hill golf teams are the best high school teams in Mississippi history,” said Jackson pro and golf course owner Randy Watkins, himself a former national junior champion. “There have been some really good teams over the years, but these numbers Oak Hill is putting on the scoreboard are just out of sight.”
In the private school state 3A championship tournament at Canton Country Club, Oak Hill won by 83 shots. That’s right, 83. In fact, Oak Hill could have counted five scores — instead of the required four — and still won the event by seven shots. When Oak Hill won the Jackson Prep Invitational at Patrick Farms, the team score was 16-under par 272. Oak Hill actually discarded a score of three-under-par 69. A score of 69 is a run-away medalist in most high school golf tournaments. Oak Hill couldn’t even use it.
Crazy? It gets crazier. The last time Oak Hill played in a golf event and didn’t win it was 2018. Senior Wells Williams, the most accomplished player on this year’s team, averaged 67.7 strokes per round. Williams, also his class valedictorian, shot an 11-under par 61 in one tournament at The Refuge in Flowood and has signed a golf scholarship at Vanderbilt. Last year’s most accomplished player Cohen Trolio made the All-Southeastern Conference freshman team this year at LSU. Collins Trolio, Cohen’s younger brother and a senior-to-be, averaged 69 strokes per round and already has committed to play his college golf at Ole Miss.
No doubt, Oak Hill would defeat many lower level college teams. As for high schools, there’s little doubt Oak Hill could compete on a national level. In fact, several Oak Hill players have. At 17, Cohen Trolio advanced to the semifinals of the U.S. Amateur at Pinehurst. Just this week, Williams advanced to the semifinals of the U.S. Amateur Four Ball at Birmingham Country Club. Cohen Trolio currently is ranked the 118th best amateur golfer in the world.
Besides star power, Oak Hill has plenty of depth. Jake Blanton, just a 10th grader, averaged 72 strokes per round and seems destined to play Division I college golf. Jackson Cook, a ninth grader and another probable DI recruit, also averaged 72. Seth Lockhart and George Bryan, the team’s fifth and sixth best players statistically, would play No. 1 on most high school teams.
So how is this possible, you ask? How does such a small private school produce such a powerhouse team?
Start with this: The team’s volunteer coach V.J. Trolio, father of Cohen and Collins, is one of the most respected teachers in the land. Golf Digest named him one of the top 100 instructors in the nation. That magazine, considered golf’s bible by many, has named Trolio Mississippi’s top teacher for seven consecutive years.
When I caught up with V.J. Trolio Tuesday by phone, he was in Tulsa helping Mississippian Chad Ramey prepare for the PGA Championship, which began Thursday, while keeping up with Cohen Trolio in an NCAA Regional in California and with Williams in the USGA Four Ball Championship.
“We’ve got a pretty good thing going for such a small school,” Trolio, the team’s ninth year coach said, understating matters stupendously. “I mean, this is a little bitty school doing big stuff.”
It helps to have West Point’s spectacular duo of golf courses, Old Waverly and Mossy Oak, as your home courses. George Bryan, founder of both golf courses and one of the most prominent movers and shakers in Mississippi golf history, has two grandsons, including Williams, on the team. It helps to have Tim Yelverton, another renowned teacher, helping with the program. In any sport, it helps to have talent and the West Point area has provided plenty.
Hunter Adkins, now a standout for the Southern Miss golf team, was the first in a line of future college golfers. Then came Cohen Trolio, now Williams, and with plenty more on the way. V.J. Trolio, who played collegiately at Southern Miss and is a member of the school’s athletic hall of fame, says talented youngsters in Oak Hill elementary school already are showing definite signs of continuing the tradition.
The Mid-South Association of Independent Schools (MAIS), the sanctioning body of Mississippi private school athletics, doesn’t sponsor golf championships for girls. But an Oak Hills girls team won five of six events it competed in against all-girls teams this spring. Two of the Oak Hill girls also qualified for — and competed in — boys tournaments.
“We’ve got some players who will definitely play women’s golf in college,” V. J. Trolio said.
How long can this dominance last?
“I don’t know, but we’ve got some fourth and fifth graders who can really play,” V. J. Trolio said. “It’s gonna keep rolling for a while.”
Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.