Chucky Mullins: Football legend makes lasting impact
PROGRESS 2023: What’s In A Name
The Russellville High School Class of 1988 Chucky Mullins Scholarship Committee has remained dedicated to preserving the memory of the Russellville legend who was injured while playing defensive back for Ole Miss during a tackle of Vanderbilt fullback Brad Gaines Oct. 29, 1989. The incident left him paralyzed from the neck down, and he lived until May 6, 1991.
Of course, few who remember Chucky Mullins could forget him. His story has been the subject of movies/documentaries, articles, scholarships, books and more.
“He came through our programs – all of our rec programs – and was the nicest kid even when he was young. Very polite,” said Jackie Bradford, remembering Mullins from his time as Russellville Parks & Rec director. “The Chucky Mullins Community Center was named after him … Everybody around here knows who he was, so that was a good deal.”
The Mullins center hosts youth sports and is also available as a rental for community and private events. “Without it we just couldn’t have basketball leagues, and we also play volleyball,” noted current Parks & Rec director Donnie Flanagan. “It’s very beneficial to have two gyms in Russellville for boys and girls to plays sports in … We host a lot of programs for the children.” Flanagan said probably 700 or more children in the City of Russellville play one or more of the youth sports offered by the department – like Bradford’s 8-year-old granddaughter, who has played at both the Mullins and Bishop centers.
Although Bradford remembers Mullins from rec basketball – “He was good basketball player even when he was so young” – he also got to see the young man in action on the football field, as he used to keep stats for Russellville games. “I got to record some of the tackles that he made when he was playing for Russellville.”
Mullins is remembered not only for his love and skill for playing football but also for his highly positive and encouraging attitude and the great love and compassion he showed for others.
As recounted in a 2009 Franklin County Times article, “If you had the outlook he did, this world would not have any problems,” said Russellville offensive line coach Ted Ikerd. “You wanted Chucky as a friend.”
Mullins faced adversity through out his life, but he had an ability to keep those around him feeling their best even when he was at his worst.
Carver Phillips and his wife Karen became Mullins’ foster parents following the death of his mother. Mullins made a quick impression on his new caregivers.
“He was awesome,” Carver Phillips said. “He was the type of kid who would do whatever you taught him to the best of his abilities.”
That included football.
Former Russelville head coach Don Cox said he never saw a player who loved football the way Mullins did. He even loved to practice, which Cox admits is a rare trait in players.
“He was the most fearless player I’ve coached,” Cox said. “He would run through a brick wall to make a tackle. We had to hold him back to keep him from hurting his teammates.”
According to his bio at olemisssports.com, Mullins earned All-Conference, All-Area and All-State honors in football as a junior and senior at Russellville. He was team captain and most valuable player. He earned three letters – in football, basketball and baseball.
A bronze bust at Ole Miss honors Mullins’ memory, installed atop a brick pillar emblazoned with his motto: “Never quit.” Each year the college presents the Chucky Mullins Courage Award to a player who “embodies the spirit of Mullins — courage, leadership, perseverance and determination.” His jersey number, 38, was retired in his honor.
“Chucky’s battle with his physical disability and his undefeatable spirit changed the University of Mississippi,” notes his Ole Miss bio. “For months after the tragic accident, Chucky endured the grueling challenges of rehabilitation. During the difficult time, Chucky’s gritty determination and positive spirit touched the lives of literally hundreds of people. More than a million dollars was raised for the Chucky Mullins Trust Fund. He was visited in the hospital and later at home by such stars as Walter Payton, Janet Jackson and President George Bush.
“Chucky’s accident and his unbroken spirit transcended football. The people of Mississippi, the South and the entire United States rallied around this remarkable young man.”