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Story Archives: Revisiting Vidalia's first state championship team
|Revisiting Vidalia's first state championship team|
As a young girl dribbling a basketball on a dirt court and shooting a basketball at a leaning goal with no net in Dyess, Ar., Aaronette Eifling Housley had no idea how her life would change when her family moved to Vidalia her junior year of high school.
That wiry tomboy would soon lead her Vidalia Vikettes basketball team to the school's first-ever state championship, earn Outstanding Player of the Year honors and play one year for the prestigious All-American Redheads.
Housley's family moved to Vidalia as her father was plantation manager for Blackhawk and Ashland Plantation.
"I first learned to shoot the basketball when I was in seventh grade," Housley said. "We played basketball in P.E. at Hughes Junior High and this girl who was two years older than me would come over to my house and shoot baskets with me."
The one junior high school near Dyess, which is best noted for being the boyhood home of singer and songwriter Johnny Cash, was in Hughes.
Housley averaged more than 20 points a game for the Vikettes, but came close to 50 points in some key contests during the season.
"I was about 5-11, so I got a lot of points inside," Housley said. "Judy Poole (Fortenberry) and Jane Herring (Beach) were our outside shooters."
After a below average season for the Vikettes her junior year, Vidalia would go on to win the Class A title in 1964-65, finishing 26-5 on the season.
"We had no idea," Housley said of the team's run to the championship. "It was a very special year. It was just a matter of pieces of the puzzle coming together. Coach Katherine Tucker Milligan had a vision and we were able to follow that vision. We had the right people who came together. It took each and every one of the girls to accomplish what we did that year."
Another big key was Allison May (Tullos) moving in from Newellton that season. May would be named first team All-State as a guard.
A 73-49 win over LaSalle in which Housley scored 29 points set up a tiebreaker game agaisnt Winnsboro for first place in sub-district.
The Vikettes beat Winnsboro 44-36 as Housley scored 20 points. Winnsboro's Zonnie Magee scorched the nets for 26 points, hitting 9-of-11 field goals from around 30 feet out.
"They had a tremendous team," Housley said. "They also had some tall players."
Vidalia beat Rayville 70-39 to set up a re-match against Winnsboro for the district title. Housley scored 44 against Rayville.
Trailing by one point after three periods, the Vikettes kept it close before Housley tipped in a rebound at the buzzer to give Vidalia a 51-50 win.
"I didn't think there was any way possible we could get that far," Housley said. "Winning district made it a great year. I had no idea what was next. But Coach just kept getting us ready for the next step."
Housley finished with 47 points in the win.
"I had no idea I had scored that many," Housley said. "Everything was working that night. Coach Tucker had it set up if they guarded me close, Judy would score. And if they concentrated on us, Jane (Herring Beach) would score from the outside."
Vidalia drew Mansfield, the No. 2 team from 1-1A. The Vikettes sent the home fans home happy, winning 67-44 as Judy Poole scored 34 points and Housley followed with 25.
The Vikettes faced Lake Arthur with the winner advancing to the Sweet 16 Tournament at Louisiana College in Pineville.
Vidalia handed Lake Arthur its biggest loss of the season, 65-38, holding the visiting team to its lowest score of the season. Housley hit 13 field goals and nine free throws to finish with 35 points.
Vidalia faced Lutcher in the semifinals and led 47-43 with two minutes remaining, scoring the final three points of the game for a 50-43 win.
Meanwhile, Coushatta defeated Destrahan in the other semifinal contest.
Housley scored 38 points as the Vikettes dominated Coushatta 60-37 in the finals.
"If we had not had such outstanding guards on the other end of the court with their abilities to keep the other team from scoring more thanwe did, it would not have happened," Housley said. "We had a wonderful group of girls that got along extremely well and we appreciated each other's talent and desire to win."
Vidalia led 17-13 after one period before Milligan switched from a zone defense to man-to-man and outscored the north Louisiana team 19-3 in the second period.
"It was just magic how Coach Tucker knew what to do," Housley said. "And I think a note of interest is that Coach Tucker was about 26 years old when we won the state championship. Just think, if she had continued to coach she would have probably been as accomplished as Tennessee's Pat Summitt."
Vidalia won the third period, 12-10 and outscored Coushatta 16-7 in the final period to make history for Vidalia High School.
"I don't know what the difference was that year," Housley said. "Everybody really meshed and came together. Allison May moved in and she was a great defensive player, along with Betty Milligan (Miller), Marcia (Elkins Pinsonat) and Alma Cox (Poole). All our players on defense were really good. I have to give all the credit to Coach Tucker to be able to manage and mold us to do what we needed to do. It was a magical year. We were a team and I cannot remember a time when there was any animosity. It was a very cohesive group."
While Eifling was named Outstanding Player in Class A, May and Betty Milligan joined her on the All-State first team, while Elkins and Poole were named to the second team.
In girls basketball at that time, there were three players on the offensive side of the court and three players on the defensive side. None of the players could cross the middle line.
"I believe we could have done just as well full court because Coach Tucker had us in such good shape," Housley said. "I would have loved to have played full court, but at the time that was the way it was and we didn't think anything else about it. We all had a job to do. A little later they went to a rover and two players could go the whole way."
Housley, who was a member of the Vidalia High Beta Club and English Team, said she didn't feel as if the girls team played in the shadows of the boys team or did not get enough credit for their accomplishments.
"As the season went on we had a lot more people in the stands," she said. "We were well supported. We had a large number of people go to Pineville and cheer for us."
With the lack of women's basketball collegiate teams in the state, Housley did not receive any scholarship offers. But she did receive an offer on the professional level.
"I had the owner of the Redheads call one day and he talked to my family and myself to see if I would be interested in playing with them," Housley said. 'I said, 'Why not?'"
Housley was paid $300 a month for her time with the Redheads, playing from 1965-66.
And, of course, she had to dye her hair red.
"That was not my favorite thing to do," Housley said. "But it was required, I had no choice."
The Redheads, the female version of the Harlem Globetrotters, played from 1936-68, In 1936, the All-American Redheads became the first women's team to play by men's rules and against men's teams.
In 1948, C.M. Olson offered a coaching job to an English teacher and high school coach, Owell Moore, who was married to Lorene "Butch" Moore. During that time, there were two teams — the All American Red Heads and the Famous Red Heads.
In 1955, Olson would sell the Red Heads to the Moore's and retire to a life on a farm. Lorene would go on to score 35,246 points over nine seasons. At halftime, she would get on her knees and shoot foul shots, sometimes making 50 in a row. It was during these halftimes that the Red Heads started putting on an extra show, while the mens team was catching their breath for the second half.
"There was a lot of traveling," Housley said. "It was really great."
The Redheads mainly played service organizations or summer league men's teams.
"They were always great about it," Housley said. "Every once in a while you would have some guys who didn't appreciate losing to us. But that was rare."
The team actually played at Vidalia High on one occasion.
"There was an East Coast team and a West Coast team and I played on the East Coast team," Housley said. "We played in Fort Myers, Fl., Long Island, N.Y., Bozeman, Mt., just all over."
Housley had to develop a trick shot of her own, so she developed a behind the back shot and would make baskets by bouncing the ball off her upper arm.
"It took a lot of practice," she said. "There was a lot of showboating. I can't do those now."
After a year, Housley attended Northeast Louisiana.
"I did not miss basketball," she said. "It was time to let it go."
Aaronette married Andy Housley in 1968 and they now live in Alice, Texas. Their children, 41-year-old Allen and 37-year-old Shannon have provided them with four grandchildren with Shannon expecting in February.
"They love sports," Housley said. "I try to work with them when I can."
Housley is now a sales associate for American Solutions for Business in Corpus Christi, one of the nation's premier provider of commercial printing, forms, labels and envelopes. She has worked there for 15 years.
"I'll never forget those times or our team," Housley sid. "We try and get together every now and then. Judy is a tax assessor in Rankin County, Alice Cruse (Walker) is an environmental consultant with honors a mile long, Iris McDonald (Floyd) is a realtor in Baton Rouge, Susan Irons (Webb) retired after 30-plus years in nursing, Marcia Elkins (Pinsonat) retired after teaching and being a principal in New Roads, Alma Cox (Poole) has spent 30-plus years working for the post office in Monterey, Allison May (Tullos) and her husband own a farming operation in Newellton.
"Margie Cowan became a Catholic Nun and resides in Westwood, Ma., Jackie Guillory (Cole) is in Ohio and is a Human Resource Manager Barbara Phillips (Welch) is an educator in Texas, Jane Herring (Beach) is a member of the PTA in Mississippi and Betty Milligan (Miller) worked for several years as a legal assistant inBaton Rouge, married and currently lives in Saucier, Ms. All the girls were outstanding players and people. It was a special time."
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