Collins’ McLaurin signs with NY Giants

Former Collins High School football standout Mark McLaurin signed with the New York Giants as a free agent following the NFL Draft over the weekend. He was one of several Mississippi State players going pro following a banner draft for the Bulldogs. The safety was a 2019 NFL Combine Participant, a member of the 2017 Associated Press All-Bowl Team, and the 2017 TaxSlayer Bowl MVP. He was also included in the 2016 SEC Fall Academic Honor Roll. According to Mississippi State athletics, his college career was highlighted as an instinctive safety who was one of the best in the SEC at his position during his last two seasons. He had a breakout junior campaign in which he led the SEC in interceptions and was the TaxSlayer Bowl MVP. He owns the MSU single-season record for interceptions and was a preseason All-America candidate by several publications as a senior. He played in 51 games with 30 starts an finished as MSU’s active career leader in interceptions with eight. McLaurin totaled 224 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks and defended 26 passes, forced a pair of fumbles and recovered three. He racked up 10 or more tackles in seven different games. At Collins, also according to MSU information, he was a solid defensive back awarded four starts by 247Sports. He played wide receiver and safety and was the eighth ranked player in Mississippi by 247Sports. He was also ranked Number 14 in the state by and Number 26 by who also had him as a three-star recruit. McLaurin helped Collins to be crowned the 2014 Class 3A State Champions with a 14-2 record during his senior season. In 16 games played during his senior season, he recorded 35 receptions for 665 yards and eight touchdowns as a receiver. As a safety in 2014, he recorded 38 total tackles with five for loss. He also picked off seven passes, deflected four passes, recovered three fumbles and caused one. McLaurin also played baseball and basketball in high school. He is the son of Tijuana and Mark McLaurin.

(Photo courtesy

Little Free Libraries are popping op in Covington County

At the January Friends of the Covington County Library meeting, Lynn Broom, Collins Elementary School librarian, shared some literacy programs she was interested in beginning here to help boost students’ interest in books and reading. One of the ideas she mentioned was Little Free Libraries (LFLs), a book exchange program that was started in May 2009. This method of sharing books in neighborhoods has become a huge, global movement. After the January meeting, Friends member Lane McLoud researched LFLs and found a website full of great stories and information. She also learned about a book written in 2015 and ordered it online. The book and website have great photos and ideas telling about the mission of repurposing unwanted books and saving them from the landfill. A LFL makes books accessible to children and students at all times in many locations. Todd Bol built the first LFL for his Hudson, Wisconsin, front yard in 2009 as a tribute to his mother, a former teacher and lifelong reader. Today, that single, small idea of “free books” has grown into a cultural phenomenon: there are more than 85,000 LFLs worldwide – in all 50 states and more than 90 countries, with dozens more established each week. Last year alone, 11,210 people started a LFL. As LFLs celebrate their 10th anniversary this May, more than 120 million books have been shared and thousands of neighbors have connected! The concept is simple: a LFL is a box of books, placed in an accessible spot, often a yard near a sidewalk. Everyone who passes is welcome to stop and browse the books inside. The book exchange runs on a “take a book, return a book” honor system. The inventory changes constantly, and something is offered for every reader from picture books to long novels. LFLs promote literacy and a love of reading. They also spark a feeling of community—sort of a neighborhood watercooler—an informal meeting place. Some LFLs offer a seed-sharing program and some LFLs have dog treats available. In May of 2012, LFL was established as an official nonprofit organization. Since then, things have exploded! LFLs have been featured on NBC Nightly News, in USA Today and on National Public Radio. LFLs are a full-fledged global movement and the world’s largest book-sharing movement. There are LFLs in Ukraine, Honduras, Iceland, Pakistan, China, Italy, Ghana, Japan, India, Australia, the Netherlands and Korea. They are in big cities like New York and Los Angeles as well as the smallest towns of Iowa and Idaho, in parks, hospital waiting rooms and front yards. According to the global map, Mississippi has about 180 LFLs. To participate in the LFLs organization, each library is registered at a cost of $40 and assigned a unique charter number that allows for listing on the official world map on the website. This map offers a catalog of exact locations so that one can find a LFL when he or she is on the road travelling or on vacation or even locate one they’d love to visit someday. “Stewards” are the caretakers of LFLs, the ones who stock and maintain it. Each LFL has a steward or team of stewards. Stewards play an important and active part in this rapidly growing movement. After Lane shared the LFL book and the information from the website with Lynn Broom and other Friends officers, it was agreed that this was something the group could do in Covington County to promote literacy. The LFL website offers building kits for sale. The prices start at $200 and go into the $400s which made that route impractical for the Friends group so they looked at other possibilities. The website and book encourage repurposing and upcycling of materials to build LFLs. People have used old suitcases, vintage metal breadboxes, dorm-size refrigerators, hollow trees and other unique items. The idea of repurposing an old newspaper vending machine is suggested in the book. In early February, Lane contacted a Hattiesburg newspaper office, and they donated three boxes. After sanding and painting, the Friends placed one at Hopewell Elementary and one on Main Street in Collins. The third will be placed at Collins Elementary. The News-Commercial has donated four more newspaper boxes, and students at the Covington County Career and Technical Education Complex are painting them. The Friends plan to put two LFLs in Mount Olive and two in Seminary and make this a county-wide program. A huge donation of books was received from The Mission Store in Collins so that there are books for all ages to start the LFLs. Book donations will be needed to keep this going in the future in case more books go out than come in. Books may be donated at the three public libraries in Mt. Olive, Collins and Seminary. The cost of charter signs for the first three LFLs was paid by the Friends. The Collins Rotary Club made a very generous donation to cover the charters for the next LFLs. To emphasize how fast LFLs are growing, the first three charter numbers were ordered on March 10 and have the numbers 85389, 85390 and 85391. The second order placed on March 20 has numbers 85916 to 85920. That’s an addition of more than 500 LFLs in 10 days! Little Free Libraries are all about building community, sparking creativity, and inspiring readers As LFLs celebrate 10 years this May, read the words of founder Tod Bol who stated, “I really believe in a LFL on every block and a book in every hand. I believe people can fix their neighborhoods, fix their communities, develop systems of sharing, learn from each other, and see that they have a better place on this planet to live.” The website is for more information.

Mississippi crafts and arts on display at the library

Collins Florist of Collins is proud to be a supporter of Mississippi artisans. Some of the favorites are on display at the R. E. Blackwell Library in Collins for the month of May. On display, one will find a sample of hand-carved walking canes by Herb Pickering of Harrisville, a member of the Artists Guild of Mississippi. There is also jewelry by Victoria Cross of Hattiesburg and by Amber’s Allie of Natchez. There are t-shirts by Anna Grace Tees of Gulfport, pottery pieces by Tab Boren of Mantachie, metal works by Debbie Barron of Florence, water color paintings by Bram Saucier of Collins and several Mississippi cookbooks. Additionally, wonderful candles from Blue Deer Candles and Wax of West Point and Grassroots Natural Candle Company of Columbus are displayed as well as goods from Flathau’s Bakery of Petal. The Friends of the Covington County, MS Library would like to thank Collins Florist owner Dara Saucier for sharing her items highlighting Mississippi artisans. The Friends want other local businesses and residents to know that the library display case is available monthly and invite anyone to share a collection, hobby or interesting display.

Collins to host the 30th Annual Okatoma Festival

Covington County’s largest event is quickly approaching, and a big milestone will certainly help make sure it’s a great anniversary celebration.

Organized by the Covington County Chamber of Commerce, the Okatoma Festival in Downtown Collins began under a Mississippi Economic Council program to promote pride within communities from across Mississippi.

“Covington County native Gerald McRaney came home for the first Okatoma Festival,” Chamber Executive Director Marie Shoemake said. “A record breaking crowd turned out from all around.”

Of course, it did help to have the star known for such programs as “Simon and Simon”, “Major Dad”, “Promised Land”, and “This is Us” drawing the crowd.

“Gerald spoke praise for his hometown and Mississippi, and it made us all proud,” Shoemake said. “The Okatoma Festival received recognition from MEC, and the festival continued to grow. After three-years, MEC went another direction, but the festival was now a cornerstone event in Covington County.”

Even though they had a great jumpstart, the Chamber of Commerce and the volunteers supporting it certainly had plenty of work to complete to keep the festival fun and exciting for so many years.

“I’m amazed and excited that we’ve reached 30 years,” Shoemake said. “This is a community celebration, and it showcases what organizations have done for a year. We love to get churches and children involved, and it builds a spirit of community pride. Children grow up, and they come home for the festival. It’s a great time for people who have moved away to come back for a reunion. We get really excited this time of the year.”

For this year’s entertainment, organizers selected a country duo quickly becoming established in Nashville. According to information provided by the duo, one of Sirius XM’s prestigious picks for a “Highway Find”, Smithfield will be the Grand Marshals and featured entertainment at this year’s Okatoma Festival.

Besides the main event, there will be music and entertainment all day on two stages. There will be 20 to 25 food vendors, a car show, a children’s fair, quilt show, art contest, 5k run and fun walk, and plenty of other activities. There will be about 200 craft and artisan booths. Plus, the popular parade is back this year with the first marching step at 10:30 a.m.

The theme, noting the Okatoma Festival’s 30th anniversary and Covington County’s Bicentennial, is simply “Celebrate.”

“It’s our time to celebrate and come together,” Shoemake said. “We’re going to have something for everyone to do.”

For more information, contact the Chamber of Commerce by visiting or calling (601) 765-6012.

(The News-Commercial)

Okatoma Festival Entertainment Schedule

Saturday, May 4, 2019


8:00 AM 5k Run/Walk – Collins Presbyterian Church

8:30 AM 1 Mile Children’s Fun Run for 14 and under

9:00 – 9:15 AM OPENING CEREMONIES Festival Main Stage

WELCOME President, Chamber of Commerce



NATIONAL ANTHEM Babette Duty & Susan Dean

9:00 – 9:45 Cool Water Gospel Family

9:45 – 10:30

10:30 Introduction of Mississippi Scholars

10:30 – 11:15 Okatoma Festival Parade

11:15 – 12:00 PM Jones On Stage

12:00 – 12:15

Introduction of Mississippi’s Miss Hospitality

Recognition of Covington County Board of Supervisors

Recognition of Other Elected Officials

12:15 – 1:15 Smithfield

Introduction of Okatoma Festival Queens

Introduction of Other Pageant/Program Winners

1:30 – 2:30 The Funkalicious Delicious 7

2:30 – 3:30 Jo vs Giants

3:30 – 4:45 Brennan Pitts & Company

5:00 – 6:00 As You Were – Army Musical Outreach

6:00 – Jones & Pine

8:00 PM (End)

Okatoma Festival Entertainment Schedule

Saturday, May 4, 2019


10:00 – 10:30 Cross Ties

10:30 – 11:15 Okatoma Festival Parade

11:15 – 11:45 Cross Ties

12:00 – 12:30 MAIN STAGE FOCUS

12:30 – 1:00 Jessie Howell

1:00 – 2:00 Ms. Tabitha

2:00 – 3:00 Zach Koch

3:00 – 5:00 Mississippi Flush Blues Band

Rotarians hear musical talents of Eli Whitehead

April is Autism Awareness Month. The Collins Rotary Club was recently entertained by a musically talented autistic student, Eli Whitehead, center. Eli played three selections on the keyboard. His father, Sam Whitehead, right, discussed the characteristics of autistic persons. Eli is a senior at Seminary High School. Eli and Sam were the guests of Zane Collins, left.

Hospitals in Collins and Magee form partnership

The board of directors of Magee General Hospital and the board of trustees of Covington County Hospital announced the collaboration of their hospitals through the execution of an administrative services agreement. This collaborative agreement will allow these two rural hospitals to work together to share the benefit of best practices, to evaluate strategies for enhancement of care coordination between them and to identify opportunities for lower cost through shared services and expertise.

Under the collaborative agreement, the administrative leadership of Magee General Hospital will be provided by Gregg Gibbes, Covington County Hospital’s current Chief Executive Officer. Mr. Gibbes will be serving as the administrator for both hospitals. The agreement will take effect April 15.

“As recent publicity has shown, the financial stability of rural health care in Mississippi is rapidly declining, placing many of our Mississippi rural hospitals at risk.” said Benny Hubbard, Chairman of the Board of Magee General Hospital. “As leaders, the members of our Board of Directors have recognized the need for bold action to maintain safe sustainable health care in our Magee community. Our collaborative agreement with Covington County Hospital is one of those bold steps. This agreement will help both of our hospitals identify innovative ways to improve our offering of healthcare services for the benefit of patients and our adjacent communities.”

Future cooperative ventures could include specialty physician services, electronic health record implementation, support services, care coordination and population health management.

“Contrary to speculation, this collaboration is not an acquisition of Magee General Hospital by Covington County Hospital,” said Robert Johnson, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Covington County Hospital. “Our focus is to work together with Magee General Hospital to meet the healthcare needs of our communities in more efficient and sustainable ways.”

Magee General Hospital is a 64-bed facility, which has operated independently for more than 70 years. Covington County Hospital, in existence since 1951, operates independently as a 25-bed Critical Access Hospital with a 60-bed nursing home, five rural health clinics, an Adult Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) and ambulance service. For Mississippi rural hospitals operating independently from larger health systems, the future is challenging.

“The survival of independent rural hospitals demands collaboration,” said Gibbes. “This is the first step toward long-term sustainability of rural healthcare in our region. I look forward to working with these two rural hospitals and leading this important effort.”

Board takes steps to hire superintendent

Members of the Covington County School Board have officially signed a contract to receive assistance in hiring the next superintendent since the State of Mississippi now requires superintendents to be appointed instead of elected following legislative action in 2016.

Mississippi School Boards Association Executive Director Dr. Michael Waldrop met with school board members and their attorney during a work session before their regular monthly meeting at the district’s office Monday, April 8, 2019.

The board chose a service level worth $4,700, plus travel and clerical expenses. This level allows the MSBA to help with advertising for potential applicants, vetting and background checks, and other steps required to find quality applicants. It also puts the burden of interviews on the local level, which could be a positive for the board to meet more people face to face before making a selection.

“Y’all have chosen a search y’all will have a little more responsibility for,” Waldrop said.

Waldrop also explained requirements set by the state for superintendents, such as being in charge of A or B schools, moving schools up a level and maintaining the advancement, or a seated superintendent or assistant superintendent the past five years. There are also alternative ways to find a new leader, such as departments directors, principals, and business professionals.

“You can’t take their word for it on their resume,” Waldrop explained. “You have to verify it.”

Now that the contract is signed, there are many other steps to take. There will be a profile created for potential candidates, ads placed in Mississippi and every other state through school board associations, and a final timeline. The new superintendent will more than likely take office on January 1, 2020.

The school board set a window of five weeks for applications to be accepted.

“We’re going to cast a really broad net as far as searching for candidates,” Waldrop told the board.

Board President Lynn Smith said the board unanimously chose to move forward with hiring the MSBA. Current Superintendent of Education for Covington County Dr. Arnetta Crosby won the previous election and is currently serving as an elected official; however, according to Smith, her term will expire December 31, 2019, with the appointed person taking office January 1, 2020.

We have to have an appointed person in place then,” Smith explained. “We have a great deal of respect for the current superintendent, Dr. Crosby, and we invite her to be a part of the process… We owe it to the legislators and the taxpayers to find the best person for the job.”

(The News-Commercial)

Circus coming to town

A circus is coming to Collins! The Kelly Miller Circus will be at the Collins City Park at the Industrial Park on Tuesday, April 16. There will be two shows: 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Tickets may be purchased at .

Sanford wins Miss Hospitality

Three Covington County high school young women competing for the Covington County Chamber of Commerce’s Miss Hospitality met at the People’s Bank board room in Collins Thursday, March 7, 2019 for interviews and competition. Larsen Brooke Sanford, right, was selected by judges as the overall winner, and she’ll compete next at the state level. Also pictured are Laka Maureen Till, left, and Hannah Faith Kirby, center.