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- General Interest
By Mindy Crandall
It has been noted that Ava Bear basketball existed in the Ava schools in the 1920’s and was played prior to that, outside the school with organized teams from the town, military and churches. Women were not allowed to play at this time. Thinking back, women were just allowed the right to vote in 1920.
Although the first time women actually participated in basketball was shortly after Dr. James Naismith invented the sport, it was years later before it received any acknowledgment. At that time, the rules were altered and long dresses were still being worn. It took several years for women’s basketball to pick up momentum.
The first known game of women’s basketball between two colleges took place in 1896 followed by a traveling team of gifted women called The Red Heads in 1936. They toured the country playing exhibition games against men’s teams and team members were required to wear makeup, look beautiful and play well, as well as, wear a red wig or dye their hair red. It wasn’t until the 1970’s after the legislation passed Title IX that women’s basketball was introduced among high schools. Title IX demanded that schools receiving federal funds meet the compliance with new laws mandating a lack of discrimination based on sex. If any school receiving funding allowed a sport to be played among men, they too, had to offer it to the women. After that, a whole series of events began playing out in women’s basketball. In 1981 the first Women’s National Basketball League was formed, 1982 the NCAA held their first Women’s Division of Basketball Champions, in 1985 the first women made the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and in 1996 the ABL and WNBA were both established. Also in 1996 the United States won an Olympic medal in women’s basketball. Women’s basketball was changing the way the world viewed what was once a man’s game.
With all this being said, it is no great surprise that it wasn’t until 1974 that the first Ava Lady Bears basketball team was formed. Coach Silvey and Dr. Decker were both very influential in getting it passed at Ava High School as they presented it to the board and superintendent.
The 1974-1975 Lady Bears were coached by Darrell Ray, who only stayed two years. The girl’s program began in MSHAA play. They played a shortened schedule the first two years as many area schools did not have a varsity program. During this time it was difficult for high schools to find coaches due to the lack of women attending college to become part of a coaching staff as there was not a big demand up until this point. The first year the Lady Bears only played six games with a 1-5 record.
The following year, their schedule consisted of 11 games with a 2-9 record. The Ava Lady Bears were off to a slow start, but when considering this was the first time that they were actually getting playing time, there is no doubt that they held their own. The junior high program did not get started until the early 1980’s so for most of these girls, this was their first glimpse of competitive basketball.
Later in 1976, Judy Bonnett became head coach. During her reign as head coach in 1977-1978 Ava began SCA play. Ava was beginning to see more wins and in 1978-1979 with a record of 15-5 Ava took second place in the SCA, Coach Bonnett became SCA Coach of the Year and Beth Ewing made first team-SCA. The following year, Ava ended the season with a 18-5 record. Beth Ewing continued to earn respect as a player as she earned MVP of the SCA, first team-SCA and second team All-Ozark. During the 1979-1980 season Beth began setting some of Ava’s best records to beat. She scored the most points ever scored in a game with 39 and has a career average of 21.8 points a game. She also is the sixth leading scorer in the school’s history.
In 1980-1981 Ava had a 19-7 record and B.J. Harvill made first team–SCA and currently holds the fourth place spot with most points scored during one season with 503 points.
During 1981-1982 Judy Bonnett resigned after six seasons as head coach with a record of 79 wins and 44 losses.
Shortly after the many years with Coach Bonnett the Lady Bears saw coaching techniques from Randy Bland, Bob Comer, Tom Brennan and Martha Fossett.
Coach Fossett began as head coach in 1988 and led the Ava Lady Bears for four seasons. During the 1989-1990 basketball season, player, Dee Dee Gray, made first team-SCA. The Ava Lady Bears had a 5-19 record. Dee Dee Gray was an asset to the team as her name is still written among the many girls who have achieved some of Ava’s greatest records.
Once Coach Fossett resigned, Mark Wendler who was at the time the 7th and 8th grade boys coach and the assistant high school varsity boys coach, accepted the girls varsity coaching position in 1992. Under his instruction the Ava Lady Bears had an outstanding amount of success with two district championships and seven state championships. The first winning season was in 1993-1994. The Ava Lady Bears became SCA Co-Champs, Coach Wendler became SCA Coach of the Year and Alisha Heriford made first team–SCA. They had a winning record of 19-7. Those players who contributed were Laura Strong, Alisha Heriford, Melissa Donley, Jamie Lamb, Mindy Pinckney, Tobie Stofer, Mindy Atchison, Heather Breeding, DeAun Gray, Angie Sallee, Angie Metscher, Beth Greene and Jamie Barnes. This was the first of three consecutive SCA Championships with Coach Wendler.
During 1994-1995 the Lady Bears had another great season with a 22-6 record. They were once again SCA Co-Champs and Mindy Atchison made first team–SCA. When talking to Coach Wendler he commented, “ This was one of my most memorable moments, we had a good year, but just lost to a pretty good team.” We had several teams in the 1990′s who won the SCA and in most districts would have been district champions and would have probably advanced in state play, however, we were matched in the same district with Marshfield who would always defeat us, win the district and on several occasions win the state championships.
In 1995-1996 Ava again reigned as SCA Champions. During this season Mindy Atchison once again made first team-SCA with DeAun Gray being a part of the class 3 All-District. Ava’s record was 21-8 that year.
The next year, 1996-1997, Ava did not bring home a championship win, but it was a great year for senior, Mindy Atchison. She was named SCA Player of the Year and again made first team-SCA.
Over the years, Coach Wendler has coached a lot of girls, and there are several that stick out in his mind, Mindy was one of them. He said, “She was a four-year starter who had a smooth way of bringing the ball down and getting the girls set up.” “I knew if she was in the game, we would have a better chance at winning.” Mindy now holds the record for the most career points, 1,424. Coach Wendler also commented on the exceptional game played by DeAun Gray. He spent more time with the girls he coached during practice and games than most spent with their own parents. They became a basketball family. Getting ready for district games and tournament finals are one of the things Wendler misses the most about coaching.
In 1997-1998 the Ava Lady Bears record was 20-6. Some of these wins were contributed to the great playing efforts of triplets, Katie, Kallie and Kellie Howard. Katie who was a freshman, made first team-SCA. After their father resigned from Ava as a coach, the girls later moved on to play basketball in Buffalo, MO. Later on Katie attended College of the Ozarks, played basketball, was on the All -American Team and later had her jersey retired.
In the years leading up to Ava’s next SCA and District Championship, the Lady Bears had several girls who won titles such as Ashley Dooms, first team-SCA in 1998-1999 and SCA Player of the Year in 1999-2000. Lacy Robinson and Jennifer Richards also made first team-SCA in 2001-2002.
The time had come and the Ava Lady Bears once again reigned as SCA and Districts Champs. They won against Ash Grove for District Champs, but later were beat by Herman in the state sectionals. Coach Wendler was apprehensive and wasn’t sure the girls could pull it off, but in the end they got hot and played well. Those players who participated were: Kayla Mitchell, Lindsey Gaston, Sarah Ross, Kim Jenkins, Jamie Eller, Lacy Robinson, Asher Kyger, LeeAllie Buchanon, Mandy Hampton, Brittany Dering, Shannon Moran and Erin Dye. The girls record was 21-10.
Player, Lacy Robinson proved to be a tough competitor as she earned her spot on second team All-State and first team All-District and became SCA Player of the Year. Lacy also holds the fifth place record in career points with 1,163 and has the record for most single season points – 524. When talking to Lacy it was apparent to see her love for the game and the respect she still holds for longtime coach, Coach Wendler. She expressed how his teachings are what help her with her coaching techniques today. Lacy said, “It’s funny how you mention the bond between players and coaches and how much influence they had on us, I think a lot of Coach Wendler and I contribute a lot of my personal success to him.” Coach Wendler also mentioned Lacy as one of his players that stand out. Lacy remembers the VIP treatment they received from the town, every business owner was on their front steps cheering as we drove by and the police also escorted us to the game. What a memory!
A lot of the players on this team were from the Plainview area. All these girls knew was to eat, sleep and breathe basketball. Since they all played together at Plainview with Coach James Hathcock, it was easy for the girls to implement Coach Wendler’s game plan and use their ability to move up and down the court as one.
In 2003-2004, The Ava Lady Bears clenched another SCA Championship with Coach Wendler. Asher Kyger was nominated first team-SCA and All-District. No championship win was permitted in 2004-2005, but junior, Mandy Hampton was inducted to first team-SCA. This was the final season of Coach Wendler’s reign as head coach until later in 2007.
Brandy Harvill, once a player, now head coach, began her two- year coaching position with the Ava Lady Bears in 2005. They had a 17-12 record with two of their players receiving awards, Mandy Hampton, Class 3 All-State and Tatum Hathcock, first team-SCA.
Mandy Hampton was fatally injured in a car accident after eleven games during 2005, her senior year. If Mandy would have been able to play her entire senior year, accruing her average points per game, there is no doubt that she too would be a member of the 1,000 Point Club.
Coach Brandy Harvill was able to spur the girls to another SCA Championship win in 2006-2007 before resigning as head coach. They had a winning record of 17-10.
Once again Coach Wendler stepped up and became head coach of the Lady Bears. In 2007-2008 Katie Nelson made first team-SCA and Kayla Dooms scored the honors of first team-SCA in 2008-2009.
Victory was cherished in 2009-2010 as the ladies had yet again pulled off an SCA and District Championship. Mark Wendler became SCA Coach of the Year for the third time in his 16-year career. Kayla Dooms was also highlighted as SCA Player of the Year.
It was a back-to-back win for Ava this year as they remained SCA and District Champions. Five players returned from the prior year: Payton Lakey, Jorie Garrett, Abbie Lansdown, Bethany Horn and Kayla Watson. Ava played and beat Willow Springs to become District Champs, but was defeated by Kennett in the state sectionals. It was a great first year season for head coach, Coach Clint Gazette. Players who fought their way through to win were: Mikali Elliott, Abbie Lansdown, Payton Lakey, Bethany Horn, Jorie Garrett, Morgan Emerich, Hannah Johnson, Kayley Watson, Cory Dry, Erica Croney, Emily Sterling, Kristen Hastings and Melissa Coonts. Three girls gained honors: Jorie Garrett, first team All-Conference, first team All-District and SCA Player of the Year; Payton Lakey, first team All-Conference and first team All-District; and Kristen Hastings, All SCA Honorable Mention.
Jorie Garrett thought they had an excellent season and hopes to return with a third win next year. Jorie was proud to receive such honors this year and is anxiously awaiting, as she would love to be inducted to All-State. Jorie recalls two her most memorable moments as being the Blue Eye game where they won in overtime by seven points and the game against Willow Springs as that was the game where she scored her personal best – 30 points.
I congratulate all these teams who have paved the way in women’s basketball.
It is apparent that this little town has some very talented girls. Since the beginning in 1974, Ava has had two players join the All-Ozark Team, six to All-District, six become SCA Player of the Year, two girls joined All-State, three District Championship and nine SCA Championships.
After looking at decades of stats I realize, society has come a long way. I am sure at one time no one thought the day would come when girls would actually step out and begin to participate in basketball, whether it be at the national level or just locally through school. I am glad to say, I am ecstatic at knowing it has. Not always am I an advocate for change, but for this one I am. May I say, it was a long time coming…But worth the wait.
In last weeks reflections column an outstanding player, Roger Johnson, who was a third-year starter and very instrumental in the success of the 1972-1973 team, was accidently omitted. My apologies to him and his family.