By JAMIE PARSELL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
I still read the newspaper like a teenager. Glance at the sports section first and then read the front page. Old habits are hard to break. Right now, it is an exciting time of year in sports. Bowl games have been announced and basketball season is underway. I love both sports equally, but as a former player, basketball season always comes with a series of flashbacks. Our sports section brings a lot of those memories to the surface.
Monday’s sports edition of the Daily Telegraph featured a young player from Mercer Christian Academy. She was wearing the No. 10, my old number. Her name? Well, it was Jamie too. I had to share the coincidence with our sports department. I spent the rest of the day reminiscing about my own days as No 10. It has been 14 years since I have worn the colors of a Lady Cavalier. I don’t know the players, or even the coach now. All new faces, with different names. Even the logo has changed on the court. But the colors of Mercer Christian Academy — rich, royal blue and bright white — are still the same.
I picked my basketball number in the fifth grade. Our tiny elementary school had just started playing the rec league in Princeton and I was starting to watch the pros play on TV. Like most kids, I liked the Chicago Bulls. But when No. 23 was taken by a tall girl in the sixth grade, I picked No. 10, the same number of the Bull’s point guard B.J. Armstrong.
Things began to pick-up for MCA’s girls basketball program when I was in the 9th grade. We played in the fall, opposite of the boys. And our biggest opponents were the Hinton Bobcats, Parkersburg Catholic and Charleston Catholic. That was before the days of consolidation and the eventual season change for the girls basketball program. The seniors were playing impressively well, even catching the attention of national tournaments and college scouts. It was one the first times a private school made the headlines. That year, we traveled to Ohio for a national tournament. I didn’t see much playing time, but the experience was surreal. One school hailed as far away as California. The center — a very, very tall girl — had signed a letter of intent to play at UCLA. We won the first round game. But lost the second round game to a team out of Pinkerton, Ohio. The trip back to the hotel was quiet, and long. But away trips had a certain “routine.” Coach always took us to eat at Ponderosa and someone always got the stomach flu. It hit hard one year at the state tournament in Charleston. Three girls came down with the stomach flu. My friend Kristy and I had head colds. Our hotel room was like the infirmary. Lysol floated in and out of the room like a haze. Our chaperones took care of us, offering medicine and cold drinks.
A few weeks ago, one of our basketball moms, Georganna Calfee, passed away from cancer. I will never forget how she supported and cheered for us, no matter the score. My favorite memory is when she brought lavender aromatherapy spray for the hotel room in Charleston. I always think of her when I see store shelves full of lavender sprays and oil. We had a large family of supporters. They packed out all the local college gyms night after night. A few remember those days and still recognize our faces, even without the ponytails.
I kept a scrapbook of all the newspaper clippings. It fills up an entire photo album, possible even a second album. The pages are yellow, crinkled with age. However, they tell the story of a group of girls, in blue and white, leaving behind a basketball legacy. I am not sure if folks in the community ever really believed our story. I have dispelled the recruiting rumors for years, and still find myself defending my team. We all grew up together, pounding basketballs on the playground in elementary school. That gives you a long time to practice and learn how to communicate on the court.
Like all good things, they come to an end. MCA was not the only team to make headlines in sports. The Lady Demons of Northfork High School won the Class AA titles in ’76, ’77 and ’79. They had a record of 100-2, with 77 straight wins. Followed by the success of the Montcalm Lady Generals in 1980. Athens High School won a state championship in 1986. MCA’s ride started in 1993 — seven state championships. But there is always another team in the shadows, waiting for a turn in the spotlight. I guess no one can stay on top forever. Between 2002 and now, there has been even more changes at my old high school. After a break from any regulation play, MCA’s girls basketball team now plays in the Christian school league instead of the WVSSAC. They are rebuilding, one game at a time.
I haven’t clipped out a sports story in 14 years. I hope the other Jamie did though. Maybe she cut it out and placed the clipping in her memory book, just like a bunch of ball players did in the late ’90s. I have read Monday’s story twice so far. She said, “We’re all like family.” It sounds so familiar that I want to pick up a basketball, close my eyes and reminiscence the rest of the work day.
Jamie Parsell is the Lifestyle editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.