Girls high school basketball: Title IX prompted change – and quickly – in North Carolina

By Richard Walker

North Carolina, like many states, didn’t have equal athletic opportunities for female athletes for many years.

East Lincoln’s 1973 state championship girls high school basketball team

But the state’s governing for high school athletics was 3 1-2 months ahead of a national law when it held its first state championship girls basketball tournament in 1972.

Those early years proved there was interest in girls basketball enough to show that other girls sports would be offered in the coming years.

Interestingly, girls basketball had been quite popular in the state for many years even as some school didn’t field teams.

As early as 1950, organizers in the Moore County towns of Southern Pines and Aberdeen invited teams from across the state to declare a “state champion” and the old Western N.C. High School Activities Association had held state title games since 1956.

Locally, four teams gained local attention and advanced all the way to state championship games in the first 12 years of the NCHSAA state tournament; East Lincoln won the 1973 Open classification state title, Burns was the 1978 Class 3A runner-up, Crest was the 1982 Class 3A runner-up and Huss was the 1983 Class 4A runner-up.

While East Lincoln was already emerging as a title contender before the U.S. president Richard M. Nixon’s signagture on the Title IX education amendment that forced all high schools to give its female athletes the same opportunities that were afforded to their male counterparts.

How out of whack was the system for girls athletes in 1972?

Burns’ 1978 N.C. 3A state runner-up girls basketball team.

At the time, fewer than 300,000 girls competed in high school sports in the U.S. as compared to 3.5 million boys high school athletes.

One of the great ironies in local sports lore is that Huss’ basketball court is named for Sylvia Rhyne Hatchell, a 1971 Huss graduate who never had a girls basketball team to play play for when she was in high school; The Huskies first team came in the 1975-76 school year. (Hatchell would play at Carson-Newman before a head coaching career with 1,023 overall victories and two national titles at Francis Marion and one at North Carolina.)

East Lincoln was easily the area’s first superpower in the sport as the Mustangs advanced to the first three state tournaments, highlighted by a 29-0 record and 1973 state championship. East Lincoln also lost to eventual state champion North Pitt in the quarterfinals of the inaugural event in 1972 and finished third in 1974 after losing to eventual champion South Johnston in the semifinals.

Henry Barkley was the Mustangs’ head coach and his star player was Brenda Johnson, who scored 55 points in three games in the state title run that ended with a 64-54 win over Jamestown Ragsdale at the High Point Central High School gymnasium. Other 1973 team members were Debbie Barker, Pam Barker, Sheila Barker, Vickie Goodson, Diane Helms, Sheila Helton, Virginia Howie, Brenda Link, Cathy Peeler, Sandy Sherrill, Donna Sigmon and Vanessa Stewart.

Burns’ run to the 1978 title run came in the school’s first year in the NCHSAA.

For years, many schools like Burns, Cherryville, East Gaston, Crest, Kings Mountain, Lincolnton, North Gaston, Shelby and South Point had competed in the old WNCHSAA.

Crest’s 1982 N.C. 3A state runner-up girls basketball team.

Lincolnton had won titles in 1955 and 1965, South Point in 1972 and 1973 and North Gaston in 1977 with Burns finishing as runner-up in 1973 and North Gaston in 1976.

In 1978, coach Tommy Pruett’s Bulldogs won the Southwestern 3A Conference regular season and tournament titles before winning three games by a combined 48 points in the district tournament at Crest.

It advanced them to the Class 3A state tournament at Hickory High School; NCHSAA had begun state tournaments for all four classifications the year before.

In Hickory, Vanessa Simmons, Mary Ann Wright and Diana Sweezy helped lead the team to the championship game against Enka. Burns lost 56-52 to finish with school-best 30-2 overall record.

In 1982, coach Ginger Hamrick’s Crest Chargers were a surprise district winner after failing to win the Southwestern 3A Conference regular season or tournament title. But in the district tournament at Kings Mountain, Crest knocked off Statesville, Shelby and R-S Central to advance to the regionals at Hickory High School. There, Crest edged a Kannapolis Brown team with future Wake Forest standout Amy Privette 47-45 before nipping Asheville Clyde Erwin 45-44 to advance to the state finals.

Facing unbeaten defending state champion SouthWest Edgecombe, the Chargers lost a 72-69 heartbreaker at Elon College’s Alumni Gymnasium in the state finals. Pauline Finney, Coralene Brooks, Beverly Kilgore and Mae Ruff were the top scorers in the regionals and state final for a balanced Chargers’ attack.

The next year, Huss stayed unbeaten all the way to the state championship game despite having to face crosstown rival Ashbrook with the area’s first women’s professional basketball player Deanna Tate four times.

The Huskies of coach Edie Sayewich featured four collegians on their roster – Appalachian State’s Karen Robinson and Jackie Anderson, UNC Charlotte’s Shelton Kennington and eventual Tennessee NCAA champion Cheryl Littlejohn.

And Huss knocked off Ashbrook four times just to advance to the state championship game; In the 84-73 Western N.C. 4A title game at East Burke, the Huskies survived Tate’s county-record 47-point performance to win.

Hunter Huss High celebrates its fourth girls basketball win of the 1982-83 season over crosstown rival Ashbrook.

In the state championship game at Elon College’s Alumni Gym, Raleigh Broughton edged Huss 58-52 to finish with a 29-0 record and leave Huss at 28-1. Broughton was coached by eventual N.C. State and UNC Charlotte assistant Ed Baldwin and had future junior college star Matisha Brown and Vanderbilt guard Jill Goldberg.