Former Rosa A. Temple High School basketball coach Levern McClelland remains one of the best high school basketball coaches to ever come through the City of Vicksburg.
Born on March 21, 1932, in Philadelphia, Mississippi, McClelland attended Hopewell Vocational High School and graduated from Alcorn A&M after being drafted in the military.
McClelland came to Vicksburg in 1964 where he became the head coach of the all Black, segregated Rosa A. Temple High School.
By 1967, McClelland had established a great team with the Buccaneers, and he was coaching some standout players such as Carl Jackson and Marshall Sanders.
”We started as an undeveloped team, and then coach installed integrity in us, and he knew exactly how to motivate us,” Jackson said.
The Buccaneers went 36-6 in the 1967 season and won the Big 8 championship that year among Black schools.
Teams all around Mississippi knew about the Buccaneers basketball program and knew the team was only getting better with McClelland’s leadership.
“He was definitely a smart man and way ahead of his time,” Sanders said. “He knew basketball, and he prepared us with tough conditioning so that he was able to teach us the game without us getting tired.”
Because Temple was an all Black school in the Jim Crow era, the Buccaneers never received the exposure many other programs did, but McClelland never let that stop him from coaching his team to win.
Just one year after winning the 1967 championship, McClelland and the Buccaneers went 29-0 in 1968 and won their second consecutive championship.
Student worker Walter Wright was in charge of keeping up with statistics and reporting them to newspapers all around Mississippi and even to Dallas, Texas. He had the chance to witness McClelland’s leadership first hand and how he inspired success in his team.
“Everything he touched, he won,” Wright said. “He is definitely one of the best coaches of all time, and I put him on a higher level than John Wooden.”
McClelland kept Wright busy and made sure he kept a job writing and reporting on athletics which helped teach Wright about organization.
He was able to do something most coaches only dream of when it comes to basketball — having an undefeated season.
Jackson went on to play for St. Bonaventure and was inducted in the school’s hall of fame in 2001, while Sanders went on to become the captain of the Harvard University basketball team.
Although Temple was known for its great athletic program, McClelland always encouraged his players to graduate and go on to college.
“He taught PE, and he always told us to get our education because that was the type of guy he was,” Wright said. “I wouldn’t be Dr. Wright today if it wasn’t for him.”
In the early 1970s, Temple High School finally integrated and McClelland became the head coach of South Vicksburg High where he continued his successful coaching career. He eventually won three Coach of the Year Awards as the Buccaneers head coach.
Although McClelland is credited for much of his team’s success, he also had a great assistant coach by the name of a Belton Dent who put in as much time as McClelland did to make their team successful.
McClelland passed away in 2013 just one day before his 81st birthday but his legacy lives on through the many lives he touched as a coach. He remains the last boys basketball coach in Vicksburg to have a undefeated season on the varsity level.