Jan. 31, 2008
It may have been more fitting for the 1977-78 Lady Bisons basketball team to hold a breakfast reunion rather than a luncheon.
Talk to anyone associated with the first ever intercollegiate women's basketball program at Lipscomb University and the time of 6 a.m. quickly becomes a major topic.
"I would sneak doughnuts out of the cafeteria so I would something to eat before our practices," said Julie Kinser Huffman. "I remember we had a lot of injuries that I attributed to practicing so early. We would be so stiff even though we would stretch and warm up."
Eventually the Lady Bisons would make the short drive to Monroe-Harding in order to hold afternoon practices since there was no room for them in the old McQuiddy Gym. Playing with little money and few other resources was everyday life for the 1977-78 team.
• They bought their own shoes and drove their own cars to games.
• They washed their own uniforms after games.
• Their practice clothes, which they had to wear to practice because they didn't have a dressing room, often caused problems.
• If a player needed treatment for an injury she had to be moved to the men's locker room.
• Scholarship money was almost nonexistent.
"I remember being reprimanded for walking across campus to my dorm in my shorts and tank top after a morning practice," said Heidi Overall Block. "Helen Bowers was almost expelled for sleeping in chapel. And one time we ended up in Alabama while we were driving to Memphis to play a game."
The struggles the team endured help to bring them together. In retrospect all of the hardships were worth it to be part of the start of something that is still growing and improving 30 years later.
"The first few years were not easy by any means," said Karen Wallace. "But to see where the program is now makes all we went through worth every minute. I would do it all over again if I had the chance."
They played for the love of the game. The players and coaches and support staff plan to meet for series of events Saturday to commemorate the 30th anniversary of that first season to recall the beginnings of the program.
There will not be a 6 a.m. breakfast, but the members of the team are scheduled to meet for a luncheon at noon in the Hall of Fame room in Allen Arena. The luncheon is for the players and their invited guests. It is not open to the public.
The team members will be introduced at halftime of the women's game with Stetson. Game time is 2 p.m. They will also be recognized during the first half of the men's game which begins at 4:15.
At halftime of the men's game the 2007-2008 Lady Bisons basketball team will be honoring the 1977-78 team with a reception in McQuiddy Gymnasium. At that time a photograph will be taken of the 1977-78 team as well as a photo of both that team and the current team.
"When we played our first season we were not thinking about the fact that it was the first team," said Wallace. "We were not doing it for the recognition.
"We were all happy that we would have the opportunity to play basketball. We all loved the game."
The members of the team were Becky Marler Brandt (Ooltewah, Tenn.); Leasa Slater Clemons (Kansas City, Mo.); Connie Bentley Clower (Kingston, Tenn.); Helen Bowers Davis (Nashville, Tenn.); Jennifer Jones Davisson (Fairview, Tenn.); Lawana Edwards (Nashville, Tenn.); Julie Kinser Huffman (Spring, Texas); Heidi Overall Block (Cheyenne, Wyoming); Cindy Perry Patton (Murfreesboro, Tenn.); Gill Sheppard Reed (Scottsboro, Ala.); Kathy Baker Reynolds (Franklin, Tenn.); Rhonda Bingham Smith (Nashville, Tenn.); Karen Wallace (Nashville, Tenn. and Vickie Clark Yancey (Jackson, Tenn.).
Trish Hodgson Carruth was the first coach.
"Trish was really the reason there is a Lady Bisons basketball team today," said Wallace. "The biggest plus for me was getting to know her. We were truly blessed to have Trish.
"She was the type of coach you dream of playing for, one that teaches you a lot about the game and about life in general. We all learned it's possible to work hard, learn and have fun all at the same time. We wanted to do well for Lipscomb, but our ultimate goal was for Trish to be proud of us."
The first interest in an intercollegiate team began in the winter of 1977. Several women were playing in the intramural league on campus, but some of the players wanted to compete at a higher level.
"It was just a bunch of freshmen that loved to play basketball that got the ball rolling," Wallace said. We had an intramural team that I don't think ever lost a game.
"Trish saw something special and set up extramural games. We played a few local colleges. We even played Vanderbilt. We were so fortunate to be at the right place at the right time."
Some Trevecca Nazarene students mentioned to some Lipscomb women that they would like both schools to play as basketball game. They asked Hodgson Carruth to coach them. She was already the coach of the women's tennis team, but she couldn't turn down their request.
"I understood their desires as athletic competition had played such a beautiful part in my own life," Hodgson Carruth said. "Naturally, we won the game. And that game only served to whet their appetites."
Some of the players asked Hodgson Carruth to talk with the administration about starting an intercollegiate team. She deferred, suggesting that the players and their parents should meet personally with the school's decision-makers.
"The next thing I knew I was being asked if I would coach the team," Hodgson Carruth said.
She suggested that Frank Bennett, a coach and teacher at that time at David Lipscomb High School, should be the coach. Bennett, in his 28th season as the Lady Bisons head basketball coach, can't remember why he did not want the job at that time. At the start of the fourth season Bennett decided the time was right for him to take over the program.
"I was told that the beginning of the program might be delayed another year while it was decided what to do about a coach," Hodgson Carruth said. "That's how I became the coach.
"We made it through the growing pains. We had a lot of heart and desire and players with a love for the game. We had players with wonderful personalities who were also excellent students. That first year was a lot of fun."