Girls basketball rose from infancy in 1974-75 to regional titles in 89 & 90
By Jim Turner

Posted on January 9, 2020 2:50 PM

Friday night during breaks in the Clashes of the Cats, five women who were outstanding basketball players as teens and two of their coaches will be honored. One of them is going in a state Hall of Fame and the other six will be inducted into the Logan County Cougar Foundation Hall of Fame. The 1989 and 1990 Lady Cougars, who both made it to the state quarterfinals, will also be honored.

It’s definitely Girls Basketball Night at LCHS, even though the boys Clash will follow. Hundreds—probably thousands—of people will be there.

In 2020, youngsters (including people in their twenties) might find it hard to believe that most Kentucky girls were denied the opportunity to play high school basketball for 40 years or so.

But consider this: When the seniors on the first Logan County Lady Cougars team in 1982-83 were third graders, there was no girls basketball in Logan County, in fact not anywhere in western Kentucky. And when the lasses finally got to play, often the crowds were woefully sparse.

Early in the 1930s, either the General Assembly or the high school athletic association had outlawed females playing organized basketball, reportedly because a young woman in what is now the Fourth Region died as the result of an injury suffered in a school basketball game.

Brenda Chapman (Strickler) graduated from Olmstead High School in 1973 as the two-time regional tennis singles champion. Tennis coach John McCarley, who was also the OHS principal, said then that she was the best basketball player at the school, male or female. Problem was, there was still no girls basketball team. Brenda began her athletic career at Western as a winning number one tennis player, but after two years she laid down her racquet and picked up a basketball. The gamble paid off. She was the all-time leading scorer on The Hill for many years and went on to be MVP and Rookie of the Year in the women’s professional basketball league.

Just think how good she could have been if she had played the game her first 18 years!

Some Louisville schools had resumed playing girls basketball a few years earlier, but in the fall of 1974 it was mandated that all Kentucky schools which played boys basketball had to offer girls basketball because of Title IX, which sought to provide equal rights for women in every phase of life. Before that, most Logan County girls had no sports to play in school. Russellville girls had fielded track and tennis teams for a few years. Soon some of the county schools began fielding female tennis and track teams with limited numbers, too.

The first few years, play featured more enthusiasm and hustle than fundamentals and expertise among the girls. Olmstead dominated Logan play the first seven seasons, winning every district championship. The late Gary Shelton coached the first Ramblerettes to an undefeated regular season, Assistant Coach Denny Milam did the same thing when he took over the team, and Lugene Rogers, who had played tennis at RHS, was a consistent winner coaching them.

It helped immensely that Olmstead had a family of Flowers descendants—Elizabeth Flowers Mason’s daughters Gracie and Lillie along with Penny Flowers Jones’ daughters Nancy and Littie. The Jones girls’ younger brother Henry played a key role in the Cougars’ state championship. Lillie, of course, was named Miss Kentucky in 1981, was MVP of two NCAA regionals on the way to back-to-back Final Fours at WKU, and is to be welcomed into the Kentucky High School Basketball Hall of Fame Friday at halftime of the boys game. Gracie played college ball for Kentucky Wesleyan. Her son, Anthony “B.A.” Woodard, played a key role for Russellville’s first regional championship team in 1999, and her grandson, Anthony ‘Rooster’ Woodard, is a highly talented football and basketball player for the current Cougars.

Diana Grinter (Hunter) was a steady force for the Ramblerettes and went on to compete in basketball and track successfully at Kentucky Wesleyan before becoming a winning high school coach and administrator. Lorraine Carter was an all-star guard.  One point guard, Brenda Anderson (Coursey), was a Lady Cougar coach for many years and another, Gail McIntosh (Scholl), became a coach’s wife .

Grinter and Lillie Mason are members of the Logan County Cougar Athletic Foundation Hall of Fame.

Some of the key players in that first year were Russellville’s Hattie Sydnor Stonecipher, Lisa Offutt & Connie Beal, Auburn’s Linda Torrence (Williams) & Mary Lou Goforth (Wright), Chandlers’ Janite Snell and ReJeana Green, Lewisburg’s Shirley O’Neal, and Adairville’s Janet Nobbin.

Several of those pioneering young women have been highly successful as adults. Russellville’s Lisa Howlett heads one of Kentucky’s leading international industries at Auburn Leather. Adairville’s Beth Mann owns a radio station. Lewisburg’s Beth McKinney is a Bowling Green attorney and chairman of the board of Lewisburg Banking Company. Russellville’s Gayla Grider (Martin) is one of several who became educators. Many have been leaders in business and industry.

The first-year head coaches included three who were also the boys coaches (Olmstead’s Shelton, Chandlers’ Jim Thompson and Auburn’s Gerald Sinclair) and three went solo (Adairville’s Susan Price, Russellville’s Matt Tipton, and Lewisburg’s John Paul Brady). The late Coach Sinclair, who led the Cougar boys to the state championship nine years later, is in the Logan County Hall of Fame and Thompson will join him there Friday. Tipton is in the Russellville Hall of Fame.

Yet with all that talent, Olmstead never was very successful at region. That was the problem. Our teams got most of their wins against each other.

Truthfully, some of the games featured almost as many turnovers as points. I pointed out in one article, “If the officials had called every mistake in the game, they would have made it last all night and drawn everyone’s displeasure. But they also must be tough enough to teach the girls the basics of the game.”

I wrote in a Speaking of Sports in the Logan Leader during that first season 45 years ago this week, “The future of girls basketball is cloudy. It will, undoubtedly, be around a while, maybe forever, but the public has to decide whether it will continue to support it or not. It’s a matter if economics. Can girls attract the entertainment dollar, which could easily become the savings dollar or the food dollar in an uncertain economy?”

One of the problems in attracting crowds was that schools were playing girls games on Mondays and Thursdays and boys games on Tuesdays and Friday. It would have been less taxing on faculty members who sold tickets and concessions, on administrators in charge of discipline who were away from their families four nights a week, and on families trying to attend every game. The boys coaches didn’t want the girls playing doubleheaders with them because it would keep junior varsity players from improving, they reasoned.

Principal Jesse Richards of Adairville had a different idea. He had the Lady Cardinals and Cardinals play doubleheaders. That eventually caught on, even though girl-boy doubleheaders often showed up on printed schedule as “Girls and Varsity.” In set-in-their-ways minds, the only ‘varsity’ team members were not only ‘jocks,’ they wore them.

The tide began to turn in the last year of Logan’s non-consolidated schools when Auburn broke Olmstead’s stranglehold on the district championship. Coach Tim Owens was willing to play any team anywhere. The Lady Tigers became competitive in the region.

Several of the players on that Auburn team provided a nucleus for the first Lady Cougar team, including center Paula Wells and guard Regina Sweatt (Massey). The best known is Finley Baird, the current Lady Cougar head coach who played first for Lindsey Wilson Junior College and then WKU. where she joined Lillie Mason on a Final Four team.

Thompson melded girls who had played for five different school into a unit. Although some problems arose, the first Lady Cougar team not only won the district but finished as regional runner-up. The team which won the region—Clemette Haskins/Melinda Carlson (Logic)-led Warren Central, won the 1983 state championship. Baird became teammates with Haskins, Carlson and Lillie Mason at WKU.

A reminder: It was the first Lady Cougar team which reached the regional finals, not the Cougar boys.

After that it became much easier to draw crowds for girls games, and doubleheaders were common place. A highlight of doubleheaders came in 1987 when Thompson’s Lady Cougars and Hall of Famer Coach Barry Reed’s Cougars played in their regional championship games on the same day. Starters on that 1987 team included Hall of Famer Tracie Mason, fellow senior Cindy Huffines and freshmen Kim Johnson (Higgins) & Carrie Horlander. Huffines, Johnson and Horlander are being inducted into the Logan Hall Friday.

Thompson coached one more year before accepting the principal’s role at Chandlers Elementary in the summer of 1988. A boys basketball and baseball coach as well, he had started coaching girls in that inaugural year of 1975 and by 1988 had coached the first six Lady Cougar teams to six district championships, two regional finals, and 119 wins, just one short of 20 wins a season.

Following him in the head coaching role was his former assistant, Mike Haynes. He had been the Adairville High School girls (and baseball) coach before consolidation, and he coached the Adairville Middle School girls team until he was “called up” to the high school.

Haynes credits Thompson for having built the foundation of the first teams Haynes coached at LCHS, and he emphasizes how much he learned from the late Lipscomb University coach and Arthur Ashe Courage Award winner Don Meyer for much of his success.

Defense and teamwork were the hallmarks of Haynes’ coaching. He once said, “If I coached against myself, the final score would be 2-0.”

Haynes’ top assistant both years was Lex Lindsey, who has been highly successful in coaching the Franklin-Simpson Lady Cats. One of his teams reached and almost won the state finals.

The growth of girls basketball here was never more evident that the skill with which the 1989 and 1990 Lady Cougars played. They won 50 games in those two years, including the regional championship and a game at state both years. They upset a heavily favored Warren East team in the first regional finals at Allen County-Scottsville, and Higgins hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to beat AC-S in the ’90 finals at Barren County High.

Haynes was named coach of the West team in all-star competition. Horlander and center Shana Dean played for him on that team, comprised of the best juniors in the state

Three players from those teams—Horlander, Dean and Johnson--are being inducted into Hall of Fame Friday, along with Haynes, Thompson and Huffines.

One evidence of the growth of girls basketball here was crowd support. Hundreds of Logan fans went to both day games in Frankfort in 1989. One of the loudest cheers from the students featured repeated cries of, “I say Lady and you say Cougars.” And they did with unbridled enthusiasm.

Russellville also developed an interest and excitement in girls basketball, although it took longer. One of the highlights came in the early 90s when teams led by two-time WKU captain Stacie Gamble reached the regional finals overall and the state Class A tournament. Those Lady Panthers were coached by Bob Matthews.

The 2020 Clash of the Lady Cats will feature two competitive teams Friday. They will be a pleasure to watch. These girls have the ladies and their coaches of teams from 1974-90 for laying the groundwork for the sport which is so popular today.

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