By Thomas Sellers Jr.
The off-the field and court life of Kip Fleming has had its share of challenges.
In contrast for most of his athletic tenure at Millington Central High School, Fleming’s natural gifts of speed, toughness and elusiveness made his time easier. Then came an October Friday night in 2014 when Fleming received a wake-up call against the Liberty Crusaders.
Performing his normal duties as Head Coach Chris Michaels’ kick returner, Flemings headed up the field with a burst of speed. Out of nowhere he was hit by a clean tackle.
“I was knocked out for about 10 seconds,” Fleming recalled. “I wouldn’t even say I forgot about anything. But the first time I opened my eyes I saw my Coach wink at me saying, ‘It’s OK. You’re going to make it.’ He believed in me. I thank Coach Michaels for that. He stayed by my side then and ever since I’ve been playing football.”
It was the faith in coaches like Michaels, Rob Sabau and Zane Adams that helped Fleming play all three major sports for the Trojans. And his senior year of being a standout wide receiver and do-it-all guard for the Sabau’s basketball team led to Fleming being selected the 2016 Star Male Athlete of the Year.
“At first I didn’t even know about it with so much going on,” Fleming acknowledged. “It feels great to know that I was even in the top and to be picked. It’s exciting, very exciting.”
Since Fleming arrived to the Millington Area from Jackson five years ago, the son of Atlanta and Kip Sr., has endured his share of trials.
During his sophomore year, the Flemings made the decision to have Kip move into the home of Shannon and Fredrick Donelson. His teammate Kameron Middleton would become his roommate and brother.
Middleton and Fleming shared the football field for four seasons at Millington. The duo teamed up for a season of baseball in 2015. And Fleming handled duties on the basketball court for one season for the Trojans in 2015-16.
“Before I even moved to Millington, I used to love basketball,” Fleming said. “That’s all my Dad really taught me. I used to be scared of football. I didn’t play football until I got to Munford. I was really a rookie. I didn’t even really know what I was doing. But I played basketball since the sixth grade all the way up to my freshman year. Down here I really didn’t play because of money problems.
“My 12th grade year, I really wanted to do everything I wanted to do,” he added. “I wanted to play basketball. And playing basketball made me really realize how much I missed it. I enjoyed it my senior year.”
Fleming said he enjoyed his season of baseball playing for Head Coach Zane Adams. He was used as a pinch/courtesy runner.
“My junior year was my first time ever playing baseball,” he said. “My brother Kameron Middleton put it in my head to come out and try to play. At first I was like, ‘This ain’t me. This is too hard to do.’
“Then I caught on and they told me if you can just really run to the bases and across home plate, people like seeing that,” Fleming continued. “Baseball, I wish I could have played it again my senior year. But I had too many obstacles to deal with.”
Fleming used this recent spring as a chance to get his personnel life in order and reach his goal of graduating. On May 19, on the field he played dozens of games, Fleming walked across the stage as a Class of 2016 graduate.
Just a few yards away, Fleming was motionless on that field in 2014 after the hit against Liberty.
“It opened my eyes and let me know that life is real — anything could happen,” he said. “If you don’t do what you’re supposed to do, it could be your last day on this earth.”
Fleming was a part of the Trojan Football program when Dana Payne passed away from a accident during practice in 2012. With a renewed dedication for the game and motivation to honor Payne’s memory, Fleming made the most of his senior season of football.
The 5-foot, 7-inch, 140 speedster wanted to also prove all doubters wrong.
“I got to show people what I can really do, other than teammates and coaches,” Fleming said. “I don’t think anybody else believed in me. They just heard about me. I had to show them what I really could do and show them I really was the go-to guy. I could do whatever I put my mind to.
“All the defensive people would look at me and say, ‘Oh, he’s just small,’” he added. “’If he catches the ball, he better hope he can get away.’ Soon as I catch the ball, my first goal is to get away. That’s my mindset every time I touch the ball. That’s my main goal.”
Fleming accomplished that goal a lot during his final two seasons leading Millington in touchdown receptions, yards and catches. He was quarterback Eldon Tyms’ go-to guy during the clutch.
Fleming transported that toughness to the basketball court guarding any player and fighting in the paint against some of the best of District 15-2A.
“It feels good that any coach can count on me,” he said. “I can put hard work and dedication on anything I do. I’m going to give it my all regardless. A coach can count on me and know I won’t let him down.
“My strongest attribute is my heart,” Fleming continued. “Knowing that I’ve been through a lot and not wanting to give up. I know for a fact, my mother doesn’t like seeing me down. She can tell when I’m down. And if I do anything, I give it my heart.”
Fleming said countless MCHS teachers and administrators helped him keep the heart to play sports and graduate. He said people like Shannon and Fredrick and MCHS senior counselor Georgette Farmer stayed on his behind and kept his focused during personal turmoil.
“I had to walk across that stage and finish my high school career,” he said. “And hopefully I can continue that in the adult world.”
Becoming an adult, Fleming said he is grateful for life lessons he has obtained from those who were in his corner.
“Knowing that my family had a couple of problems, when I moved in with Kam, they really showed me what a family is like,” he said. “You can count on people when they want to be there, they can.”
Fleming said his fallen teammates taught him not to take the game he loves for granted.
“That brings me back to when Dana Payne got hurt,” he said. “Usually when somebody gets hurt, they give up. I’m pretty sure if he was here, he wouldn’t have given up. When you get hit, don’t let it keep you down. Don’t give up, I would never give up.
“I want to live and continue to learn,” Fleming added. “I want to continue my school by going to college. I want to play football. I don’t just want to stop after high school. After that I just want to continue to live and learn. After that, whatever happens, happens. All things happen for a reason.”
Several reasons helped Fleming win the 2016 Male Athlete of the Year Award. The Jackson native said his honor makes his blood, sweat, tears and pains worth it as he joins Trojan Athletics folklore.
“It really warms my heart to know that I’m just like everyone else in Millington,” he concluded. “Not saying other schools don’t have great athletes. I’ve seen a lot of great athletes. But knowing that most of Millington, most of us go through a lot. We keep going and don’t let anything hold us back. We continue to grind and never give up.”