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40 Years of the Lady Patriots

Go Lady Patriots!

The DVD Red, White & Blue Royalty: 40 Years on the Court with Allen County-Scottsville’s Lady Patriots is the result of a year-long oral history project into the history and impact of the longest and most successful athletic program in the history of Allen County, Kentucky. The project that started in January 2014 intended to be over by May 2014. Instead, it continued into September 2014 with interviewees planning vacation days and flights into town to participate. Because it developed into a larger project than planned, I did not have the forethought to seek assistance at that time and hitched along funding the project from my own financial resources yet without incurring any significant debt. The rates given by the KOHC for travel, stipends, volunteers, etc. seem overgenerous to me. I have not used them to calculate my expenses for the sake of the application. I am asking instead for a grant that may serve as a reimbursement for part of my expenses in order to invest in other projects ahead. I hope you will agree I have documented a great story.

This story begins in the antiquated and, I daresay, outrageous days when males theorized that basketball would hurt the female body. It celebrated the day when Title IX mandated equal opportunity and continues to the present era when more Allen Countians travel to support the girls’ program than any other sport.

As many believe an early all-white UK Wildcat loss to an all-black Texas A&M team in the NCAA did much for civil rights, the success of the Lady Patriots caused a change in gender perception in rural Kentucky. Women are capable. They can fight. They can win. We lose nothing but gain everything by supporting them. These little progressive victories add up, notably in a town where successive years brought a female mayor and city council members as well a state championship in girls’ Fast pitched Softball.

It is especially significant that it is a girls team. Although the 1920s and 1930s saw High School girls’ basketball, it was outlawed for most of the 20th Century. Roaring back to life in 1974 by Title IX (federally) and by the so-called “Basketball Bill” sponsored by Kentucky State Representative Bill Baker, high school girls’ basketball in Allen County and Scottsville is a way of life for this Southern Kentucky small town.

Lady Patriot basketball is a story of rich personal stories. With nearly 100 interviews and more than 100 hours of game footage archived, this program means a great deal more than just high school basketball. This project accumulated more than fourteen days (340 hours) of video ALL reflecting the themes of sisterhood and family that prepared these women for the lives they live post-high school basketball. Everything from personal loss of parents and siblings to serious illness and death of teammates to sharing in the happy days of weddings and babies came through in these interviews. Team members, fans, parents, teachers, and coaches bring the story alive on film and the tale is inspiring and heartfelt to hear the same themes breakthrough in spite of diversity of its sources. Family. Sisterhood. Values. Life lessons.

Marking the years from the drafting of the first team coach, its first comical tryouts and the resulting first season record—14 to 0—Patriot Girls Basketball—now the Lady Patriots—have subsequently worn the Red, White, and Blue to SEVEN state tournaments since 1974. Although coaches changed, the same rich traditions that began four decades ago remain intact. For Lady Patriots, what started on the courts during a young lady’s awkward years follows her into her life as a professional, a wife, a mother and most recently—for some Lady Patriots—a grandmother!

History brings meaning to life, and the history of this program is one of the best examples of that. Economically-depressed small towns find precious little to grasp onto and cherish, but these young ladies gave Scottsville that special gift without a tremendous effort. In return, over four hundred females in its history prepared for college and significant lives by matriculating through this basketball program.

This project organized around a group of enthusiastic and energetic former Lady Patriot Basketball players and coaches. The mere suggestion of a "team reunion" resulted with a groundswell of interest. We held over a dozen sessions resulting in the participation of over a hundred people. Players from every year and every team in the history of the program volunteered to speak to us. One former player flew in from Dallas, Texas to reunite with her team and tell her story.

Our community rallied and made my job easy. Lady Patriot moms, ever the resource, made phone calls, sent out facebook inquiries and collected contact information. I made phone calls to two dozen US states and one foreign country inviting Lady Patriots home to their team interviews. Most obliged. Some passed citing having babies, careers, college or other life events but they were excited to have been asked and most followed up with their teammates and or with me.

To the knowledge of this project, there has NEVER been any formal historical inquiry or research into the Lady Patriot program. I discovered player-kept scrapbooks are immensely helpful. The archives of local newspapers opened to us. Video and 8mm recordings were shared with us. Photo albums piled knee deep in our studios for months until we could complete the scanning.

Every interview was filmed and an unedited version archived "raw" without edits of any kind. The intact films were preserved with all the off-the-cuffs, gaffes, and bloopers. For the final presentations, "clean" edits were made but those original segments are available "raw" and present the clearest perspective of the family atmosphere the team interviews created. The name-calling, hugs, tears, back-slapping, and inappropriate memories all joined together and a family emerged. When the cameras blinked on, most subjects attempted composure but, thankfully, that wasn’t always accomplished. Community Scholars training included letting the subjects go in the direction they wanted. Through yearbooks, player scrapbooks, newspapers and some VHS films, I knew the general outline and navigated in that direction. I asked about interactions with coaches, memories of tournaments, feelings of victory and loss, personal stories about friendships. The players themselves opened up to stories about losing parents, heartbreak, tragedy and how they found the courage from one another to keep pressing forward.

Yes, we facilitated, but it was the ladies’ stories to tell. Many are still active today in athletic programs as coaches, mentors and teachers. They knew better than I did what lessons their team experiences had inspired. In a senior seminar at Berea College, our instruction had been to kick off an interview but follow where it goes without rigid direction. Those techniques also resulted in this project having more interaction between the subjects. They queried one another, disagreed, joked and eventually moved on.

Interviews were as few as one person and as many as fifteen per camera. At one interview session, we had three video cameras running. One each on three groups that were interacting together, remembering and “jogging” one another’s memories in a way no interviewer could. ALL gave on-camera acknowledgments that they were not being compensated and that footage could be used as the project director thought best. For their participation, the project made a generous contribution to the Lady Patriot booster club in their honor.

Fortunately, a local photographer and one of my longtime friends helped operate the equipment and the photographer documented each interview session with clear, professional digital photography. They did not ask questions. I was the sole interviewer/facilitator. Incidentally, a copy of our DVD, and DVDs of her photography will be donated to the Patriot Alumni Association—a fledgling association of alumni with a bright future—Western Kentucky University Special Collections and DVDs offered publicly for purchase.

Many continued on the court after high school including four Lady Patriots who attended NCAA/NAIA Final Fours as players. Others involve themselves in Little League or at school with they teach. In addition to players, I also invited coaches that have worked the entirety of the program—player, assistant coach, head coach as well as teacher—and coaches when the program wasn’t as talented as it was in other years. Teachers could be counted on to give their witness of the school pride and the community involvement in the Lady Patriot success. Parents cried remembering wins as well as losses. They bemoaned expenses and recalled injuries but took no hesitation to say, it was all worth the cost and they would do it all over again. In many cases, both a younger and an older sibling in the same family participated. Their experiences varied based on coaching staff, bench depth and season records peppered the interviews with variety.

Beginning in January with interviews, the project progressed through June. In late June editing began and a September event planned to "premiere" our resulting film.

It was the highlight of the project to share with the community. We held an informal "premiere" in late fall and opened it to the public. As the credits rolled, we were thrilled to see a standing ovation, cheers, and smiles accompanied by tears and to hear each generation of Lady Patriots tell us that we had captured what the program meant to them. For a simply historic standpoint on the success of the project, I will quote Angel Bonds. Angel played on the original AC-SHS "Patriot Girls Basketball" team, later as assistant coach, coached on all seven of the state tournament teams, and recently retired after spending 40 out of 40 years with the Lady Patriots (originally as a player).

You didn’t know what you were doing. You wanted to make a little splash in a big pond and make a movie. What you did was reunite a family, a sisterhood that has had all too few of a positive occasion to get together. It’s always a funeral. Death. Sometimes Babies. Or Sickness. You gave us a happy time to get together. You made it OK to laugh at one another and with one another, to poke fun, and to cry over things that made us the women we are. This is what made us mothers, daughters, sisters, friends, teachers, lawyers, professionals wherever we go. It’s not just basketball. Lady Patriot basketball is a way of life.

It meant "never give up" and "girls can do it, too." It became a source of pride, and the given names of Lady Patriots became household knowledge around the small town of Scottsville. When you said “Vera” everyone knew you meant Vera Hall, daughter of a beloved physician and you expected her rebounds as certainties. When you said “Joanna,” you were referring to a speedy Gonzales in pigtails and knew she would drive that ball down court. It meant "you belong here. You’re one of us." And when sad occasions rolled around (mentioned previously), they leaned on one another, as well as felt the strong arms and prayers of a supportive community. In happy times—at state tournament and elsewhere—these players could look into the stands and view a “sea of red” there to cheer them on.

An edited version of this project is available on DVD. Interviewees have the option of also purchasing an extended version of their interview session with their teammates and coaches. I have had some commercial successes with this project but profits have not been the major goal. In addition, we have presented clips and made presentations at local civic groups like the Scottsville Rotary Club to share the wealth of memories the project created.

Before the Allen County-Scottsville Lady Patriots roared to life in 1974, young girls shot hoops on driveways with their brothers and boys in the neighborhood. Long summer days pitched them against one another for bragging rights and girls won as often as the boys. Both boys and girls dreamed of the day when they would join the high school team and play for the pride of their hometown. One group had the reality to anticipate. Until 1974, it has remained just a young girl’s fondest wish.

For forty years, Lady Patriots have been a dream come true not just for young women but for a school, a community,and a way of life in a Southern Kentucky town.

Today, Thursday, February 26th, 2015, The AC-SHS Lady Patriots defeated the Glasgow Lady Scotties and will play at the KHSAA Regional Tournament in a bid to return for their 8th trip to the State Tournament. The legacy continues in 2015 with a future UK Lady Wildcat in tow.


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