It’s no coincidence that competitors who excel in sports may also be poised to excel in other areas of life, including leadership positions. In the process of achieving in sports, players gain skills and lessons that will follow them into their careers. Successes on the fields, courts and diamonds followed Philip Gunn who today holds one of the most powerful positions in our state government as the Speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives. Gunn is the first Republican speaker of the Mississippi House in 136 years.
Prior to the support of the voters, Gunn’s earliest and most vital support came from his parents who encouraged him as he played sports growing up. “My dad played basketball in college and knew the benefits of playing team sports,” Gunn said in a recent interview. Gunn was in his second year of law school at Ole Miss in 1988 when he lost both of his parents and his sister when their car was hit by an intoxicated driver in Oxford while they were visiting Gunn. “My mom and dad were my mentors and heroes when I was growing up,” Gunn said.
Gunn began playing sports in the fourth grade, and by the time he was a senior at Clinton High School, he was the only senior athlete to play football, basketball, and baseball. One of his highlights was leading his high school football team to the state championship in 1980. The Clinton Arrows were ranked No. 1 in the final United Press International (UPI) Coaches Poll.
“I really loved high school sports. Clinton played in the Little Dixie Conference, and when we played our rivals Warren Central and Pearl, we would have standing room only crowds. Those games were something you looked forward to. Really the whole community looked forward to those games,” he said
The 6-foot-4 Gunn excelled on the basketball courts, and many thought that was his best sport. Gunn’s first love, however, was football. He was named All-State quarterback by the Mississippi Sportswriters his senior year and was selected to play in the North/South All-Star game where he threw a 70-yard touchdown pass on his team’s first offensive play.
Despite his status as an All-State quarterback, those D1 offers never came, so Gunn ended up signing with Mississippi College. He would play the first semester at MC, but the desire and dream of playing for a Division 1 school was still gnawing at him. “I always wanted to play Division 1 college football,” Gunn said. Luckily for Gunn, a couple of Baylor graduates in his hometown told him about Baylor University, so he planned a visit to Waco, Texas, after that first semester at MC and met the legendary head coach Grant Teaff.
“I really liked what I saw and decided to walk on at Baylor. We had some good teams back then. Even though I was only a scout team player, I really enjoyed my time and all the lasting friendships that I made at Baylor,” Gunn said.
During his last semester during his senior year at Baylor, Gunn met his wife, Lisa. They married a year and half later. Today, they are the proud parents of four children: Meredith, twins Alex and Andrew, and John David. He coached all his children through youth sports. “My parents were very supportive of me playing youth sports, and I made sure I did the same for my four children.”
Even though Gunn was president of the Ole Miss School of Law where he was elected Student Body President, entering politics was never a plan. He was asked to run for the Mississippi Legislature in 2003 because of redistricting that year in his hometown, Clinton. He won a very contentious election, and today the citizens of Mississippi are fortunate to have him serving as Speaker of the House.