Sunday, January 23, 2022

Bill Crawford: Remembering Lusia Harris, a Stellar Mississippi Athlete

 Once upon a time the late Orley Hood was just a sports writer. Back in 1976 when he would head to Delta State to cover basketball, I would drive over from Charleston where I was a weekly newspaper editor to enjoy his company and watch the games. When there was room, he would let me sit by him at the scorer’s table where I would sort of keep unofficial stats.

That’s how I got to see up close and personal one of Mississippi’s few national championship teams, the Lady Statesmen with starters Lusia “Lucy” Harris, Debbie Brock, Wanda Hairston, Cornelia Ward, and Ramona VonBoeckman and coach Margaret Wade. What a team! What a run – three national championships in a row! What a record – 100-6 over four years!

Miss good times like that. Miss Orley too.

These memories came back last week when the news broke that Lusia Harris-Stewart had passed away. I had forgotten all the honors the Minter City native and Amanda Elzy graduate had won – All-American, inducted into several Halls of Fame, silver medalist and first woman to score a basket in the Olympics, drafted by the men’s New Orleans Jazz team. 

Sports writer emeritus Rick Cleveland called her “the Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell of women’s basketball.” I just remembered her stellar play and that team winning and winning and winning.

In 2021 a short film was produced that highlighted the extraordinary life of “The Queen of Basketball.” Watch it on YouTube ( and you will see there was much more to Lusia Harris than those heady years of basketball. 

In addition to talented teammates, Lusia was blessed with a great coach. The late Margaret Wade, “mother of modern women’s basketball” and namesake for the Margaret Wade Trophy awarded annually to the top NCAA women’s basketball player. Yes, hers is a marvelous story worth telling too.

Picked up my copy of Mississippi’s Greatest Athletes by Rick Cleveland with a forward by Archie Manning. Published in 2014, it shows the athletes who had been inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. 

Read Archie’s forward and Rick’s intro for first time in several years. Lots of great athletes mentioned. But this time I noticed only three women among them – Ruthie Bolton, the Auburn star and two-time Olympics gold medalist in basketball; Peggy Gillom, the all-time leading scorer in Ole Miss women’s basketball and Olympics coach; and Coach Wade, the first woman Hall of Fame inductee. Back in the blurbs on all inductees I found Lusia Harris. No other team members were listed, though there is a tiny team photo in the collage on the cover.

Checked the Hall of Fame website ( Discovered only 26 female inductees out of over 300 total. 

Found that Debbie Brock was added in 2021, but only after her 2020 induction into the national Women's Basketball Hall of Fame. 

Hmmm. Got some more catching up to do guys.

“Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life" – Philippians 4:3.

Crawford is a syndicated columnist from Jackson.


Anonymous said...

While the names of powerful legislators adorn the fronts of our institutional buildings, those who have pulled the wagon, served and suffered in the trenches and made a difference, are largely ignored....except for the footnoted references in articles and dusty photographs on the archives shelves.

In the Mississippi Delta, for example, you'll find Charlie Capps' name on a dozen or more buildings, lakes and honoraria - While you will only see the name 'Lucy' Harris in a film clip or hastily written article in advance of her funeral. Whose contributions were more meaningful, richer, more lasting?

Anonymous said...

Orley Hood was a real journalist. RIP

Mike Robertson said...

What great memories! As a kid, I was fascinated that a little ol team from Cleveland was such a powerhouse. Lucy was a hero!

Anonymous said...

In those years before Title Nine women's basketball was ignored by the larger universities and the NCAA had absolutely nothing to do with it. In that atmosphere small schools, mostly private, could dominate with a few well-disciplined athletes. They had an organization of schools called the AIAW. The teams ranged from small state schools like Delta State and MSCW to small church schools like MC and Belhaven. The schools and teams were also mostly all-white. It was very competitive but the players were not nearly the athletic types who dominate the sport today. In this atmosphere Margaret Wade was like the Bear Bryant of her sport. She was visionary enough to know that she could not only win but dominate if she had one more good athlete than the rest and Lucy Harris was that athlete. Lucy Harris was the right player at the right time and in the right place. Her success is testament to Delta State University, Margaret Wade, and to Lucy Harris herself as a pioneer and icon. RIP Lucy Harris.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for honoring her memory. A true Mississippi legend.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for honoring her memory.

But, sorry that you decided to turn it into a demeaning of others at the end. Save that for later; this should have stayed as a testament to Harris.

Anonymous said...

1:50 - It's sad that you have such a one-track mind and can't tolerate a discussion which includes comparisons, parallels and societal implications.

Otherwise, just read the obituary and you'll be satisfied. She was larger than her obituary and deserves much more. Will she get it? Nope. After all, she was just a small-town negro girl who passed our way in the night.

Anonymous said...

Mike Robertson - They weren't 'a little ole team from Cleveland'. In fact not one of them was 'from Cleveland'.

Anonymous said...

Not a peep from Oprah.

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Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).

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In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.

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Trollfest '09 is a pet-friendly event as well. Feel free to bring your dog with you and do not worry if your pet gets hungry, as employees of the Jackson Zoo will be on hand to provide some of their animals as food when it gets to be feeding time for your little loved one.

Relax at the Fox News Tent. Since there are only three blonde reporters in Jackson (being blonde is a requirement for working at Fox News), Megan and Kathryn from WAPT and Wendy from WLBT will be on loan to Fox. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both and a torn-up Obama yard sign will entitle you to free drinks served by Megan, Wendy, and Kathryn. Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required. Just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '09 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

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Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

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