Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Title IX 40 years of change

June 25, 2012

Women’s sports go from riding in a hearse to traveling upstate

BLUEFIELD — Is it a funeral procession or a trip to a neighboring school for an away game? Former Montcalm High School basketball player Sheila Shoemaker, 47, knows the answer. In the ’70s, the junior high student said she, along with her teammates, rode to away games in the back of an old hearse.

“You had a front seat, back seat and the place where you put the coffin. It was like a u-shape. You had to make sure you got there early to get a seat. You didn’t want to sit in the back,” Shoemaker said.

By the time Shoemaker was a junior, the school purchased a van, but the memories of the early years — time spent on the road in a hearse — are not easily forgotten.

Title IX passed in 1972. Cindy Havens, 53, was one of the first students to play basketball at Montcalm High School. Because there were no girls teams before 1972 — rec leagues and summer camps for sports didn’t exist for girls — Havens played with her brothers in the backyard until she was a sophomore during the 1974-’75 school year.

“To me, it was very exciting. I had never done anything like that — play for an organized team at school,” she said.

However, the girl’s program struggled at first. Havens said their uniform consisted of a T-shirt and shorts. Parents drove players to games. Sometimes the coach drove a bus, loaned by the school. Havens said she and other members of the team often wondered why they had to purchase their uniforms and why they didn’t have the same equipment — like warm-ups outfits — as the boys teams. Havens said they just shrugged it off.

“We were so excited to play,” she said.

The community was also enthusiast. Parents came out to support the girls team, as well as others. At that time, Montcalm didn’t have a football team. There were only two high school teams — girls and boys basketball and both played in the fall.

In 1976, the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission held the first high school state tournament for girls. Montcalm didn’t make the trip, having lost to rival Athens in the county tournament.

“We were pretty successful,” Havens said. “We had winning seasons.”

In 1978, Montcalm made the tournament, but lost to Parkersburg Catholic. But in 1980, under Coach Steve Brady, the Montcalm girls team finally won the Class A state championship. Shoemaker said the media gave them good coverage and folks in the area traveled in caravans to the games. Girls basketball erupted in the tiny town of Montcalm.

“For me, it was some of the best memories ever. We had a great group,” Shoemaker, one of the players on the 1980 team, said. “We got a lot of support from our community.”

On the ride home, Shoemaker remembers scraping off ice inside the van.

“The heater died, but we were so happy that we won that we didn’t care,” she said.

Pam Lucado, 49, also played on that state championship team, but didn’t pick up a basketball until age 12.

“We just played at home in the backyard,” she said. “I went out in 7th grade and gave it a shot. We didn’t have anything in elementary school.”

Lucado and Shoemaker knew about Title IX’s impact on sports, but didn’t understand the significance until they were older.

Lucado said she remembers talking to other women who were in high school before the law passed in 1972.

“It was different for them,” she said. “When I played, it was there for the taking.”

Former coach Craig Havens, 53, and the current assistant principal at Montcalm High School said the initial success of girls basketball set the tone.

“They were aware of the opportunities,” he said. “It gave them a sense of pride and an opportunity to go to college.”

Craig took over the head coach job sometime in 1983-1984, where he stayed until the girls season moved from fall to spring in the 1995-’96 school year. He said Title IX not only gave females a chance to play sports, it also gave them a chance to make it to college on a scholarship.

The point was to make it to the next level. Lucado received a scholarship to Ohio State, but chose Bluefield State College for family reasons. Shoemaker went to Concord College and Cindy Havens attended Bluefield State College as well. If it wasn’t for Title IX, we would have been limited, Lucado added.

Shoemaker, a longtime employee of American Electric Power, said the law allowed her to play ball, which taught her more than the rules of basketball.

“It made me more independent,” she said. “When you play on a team, you have a goal. You learn life lessons and build life-long friendships.”

She said Montcalm wasn’t the only school to benefit from Title IX. She said good basketball programs began developing all over the county, including Princeton Senior High School. In neighboring McDowell County, another basketball program began offering organized girls basketball. 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. Former coach Ronnie Tote, 63, said the Northfork girls basketball team had a rough start.

“It was a struggle,” Tote said. “As we went on, it got easier.”

In ’76, Tote asked for warm-ups for the team, but his request was denied. There weren’t any funds. And when he was told the team had to travel on game day to West Virginia Wesleyan, the site of the state tournament, he told school officials he would pay for the warm-ups and the hotel bill. He wanted to go to the game with a sharp-dressed team.

“After the game, one of the parents — we didn’t have a Booster Club — gave me a blank check from Jim Lane for pay for the warm-ups and hotel. It all worked out,” he said.

Tote said there was never a conflict and the community supported the girls. Parents always wanted to talk to him about the team. Even the boys basketball team scrimmaged against the girls team.

“We wouldn’t pack out the gym, but we had 200-300 people at the games,” Tote said. “The community supported us.”

He especially remembers the girls’ love for the game.

“All they wanted to do is play ball,” he said. “That’s all they had.”

Some nights, he turned the lights off in the gym; the girls still playing ball. They would practice for hours and then dribble the ball home.

Drema Johnson, Carlotta Young, Cassandra Myers, Belinda McKinley, Charlene Hickman, Lisa Price, Georgette Dickerson, Drema Huckleberry and Eddie Dockery were just a few athletes who made their mark in girls sports in McDowell County.

— Contact Jamie Parsell at jparsell@bdtonline.com.

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