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HAMMOCK: Dacula's Wright, family taking leap of faith to tiny Mississippi school

Collins Hill grads Dani Wright (back left) and her husband David, shown with their two sons, recently took jobs at tiny Wilkinson County Christian Academy in Woodville, Miss. David, who has coached at Dacula for the past eight years, will be the school's athletic director, head football coach and head boys basketball coach and Dani will be the head girls basketball coach.

Collins Hill grads Dani Wright (back left) and her husband David, shown with their two sons, recently took jobs at tiny Wilkinson County Christian Academy in Woodville, Miss. David, who has coached at Dacula for the past eight years, will be the school's athletic director, head football coach and head boys basketball coach and Dani will be the head girls basketball coach.

Wrights taking leap of faith to tiny school

For David and Dani Wright, the comfort is here in Gwinnett. Both of their families and their friends. Their home. Their alma mater, Collins Hill.

It would have been easy to stay in their current situation -- David coaching and teaching at Dacula and Dani raising their two young sons, 4-year-old Tyler and 1-year-old Easton, in the same suburbia where they grew up. But sometimes the simple path gets pushed aside when another intriguing opportunity opens up.

That's what happened for the Wrights, who decided earlier this month to pack up for tiny Woodville, Miss. David will be the athletic director, head football coach and head boys basketball coach at Wilkinson County Christian Academy, and Dani (a two-time state champion basketball standout at Collins Hill under her maiden name, Kubik) will be the head varsity and junior varsity girls basketball coach and an assistant coach.

Both also will teach classes at WCCA, with its approximately 270 students enrolled from kindergarten to 12th grade.

It took deep thought and prayer before the Wrights even agreed to visit the school, whose headmaster, Chad Gunnells, is a former Norcross teacher. When they finally visited earlier this year, Dani said "they fell in love with it."

David will coach a football team with 28 players.

"I've always wanted to know what it's like in a small-town atmosphere, like 'Hoosiers,' where the whole town shuts down for football and basketball," David said. "In Gwinnett, so many people are doing different things. It's a different sense of community because of how fast things grew. It's so busy here I guess sometimes we forget about high school athletics.

"I'm looking forward to showing the kids (at WCCA) that there's more to school than just school. Some kids just graduate and go to work on their dad's farm. From what I've heard, they don't have big dreams. I want to let them know there's more out there for them."

The opportunity to help the kids in Wilkinson County, situated on the southwest corner of Mississippi and bordering Louisiana, is why the Wrights were drawn so strongly to the new job.

And there will be plenty of kids to help.

Wilkinson is among the poorest counties in the nation's poorest state, as the latest U.S. Census numbers tell us. Of the county's 25-and-older residents, only 9 percent have a bachelor's degree or higher. A troubling 28.1 percent of its residents live below the poverty level, an even higher percentage than Mississippi as a whole (21.2 percent).

"We prayed about it and we just felt like we needed to be there," said Dani, who played college basketball at Auburn and BYU and worked as a lay coach at Collins Hill and Dacula after college.

In rural Mississippi, the Wrights won't have to deal with Gwinnett's heavy traffic and necessary late-night practices because of so many teams share the same fields and gyms. But they'll also lose a few luxuries, too.

"What do they do for fun in Woodville? Hunt and fish and go four-wheeling," David said. "That's entertainment in Woodville. If you want the mall, the movies, Chili's or Outback, you've got to drive 45 minutes south to Baton Rouge."

David starts work at WCCA on June 1 -- among his first tasks is selling the school's 60-passenger Greyhound bus and purchasing two smaller ones -- and about the same time Dacula will begin to feel his loss.

I've encountered few teachers and coaches who are more involved with their students and players than David, who coached three sports for half of his eight years at Dacula. He leads the school's Fellowship of Christian Athletes huddle and was the Falcons' go-to guy for multimedia productions, whether it was posters or videos.

Now he will take that knowledge to a rural place that really needs it. He plans to teach a computer applications class and a multimedia class, and he gets to share the experience closely with his wife and sons, who can attend day care and pre-K on the same campus as the main school.

"I just like the small-town feel there," David said. "I remember in the '80s playing rec ball in Dacula and Woodville has a similar feeling to that. That's probably a lot of why I'm drawn to it so much."

Will Hammock can be reached via email at will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Thursdays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/willhammock. For Hammock's blog, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/willsworld.