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Louisiana Tech has been contending for titles for 25 years
Posted: Sunday February 28, 1999 04:08 PM
RUSTON, La. (AP) -- Louisiana Tech is the type of place that rolls out the red carpet for women's basketball.
Before every game at the Thomas Assembly Center, the Tech players burst through a paper-covered hoop and race across the floor on a carpet of red. Spotlights probe the darkened arena, glinting off two rotating disco balls, and smoke billows in as the starters are introduced.
It's a show befitting a school with 17 straight NCAA tournament appearances, nine Final Four trips and two national championships. Before the NCAA got involved, Tech made three appearances in the AIAW Final Four and captured one national title.
In this, the 25th year, another NCAA appearance is assured and a third national championship is possible. That's a lot for one school, a tribute to the vision of one person and the determination of another.
The vision came from Dr. F. Jay Taylor, Louisiana Tech's president from 1961 to 1987. The determination sprang from Sonja Hogg, the school's first women's basketball coach, a bubbling, high-spirited type who never let a lack of money or facilities get in the way of success.
It started in 1973 when Hogg, who was teaching physical education, and students Charlotte Cloud, Kathy Bailey, Patricia Stevens and Kathy Singletary marched into Taylor's office to lobby for a women's basketball team.
"I didn't know why they were coming," recalls Taylor, now retired and still living in Ruston. "So Sonja comes breezing in her usual manner with these young ladies saying it was time we had a women's intercollegiate team and they thought basketball would be a good place for us to start."
What Hogg and the students didn't know was that Taylor already had been thinking for a while about starting a women's team.
"I thought it was very shameful that we had a successful men's program but not one single women's program," he said. "I thought it was high time something be done about that. Also behind that was Title IX, which we certainly were not in compliance with.
"While all that was on my mind, here comes Sonja with her entourage," Taylor said. "I told her I'd think it over. To tell the truth, I already had thought it over."
With Taylor's backing, Lady Techster basketball was born and Hogg was made the coach.
"I had no idea that I'd be the coach," said Hogg, now the coach at Baylor. "I was just going in helping some young ladies. I thought it was something that was needed. I wish we'd had it when I was there as a student."
Tech's current coach, Leon Barmore, said Taylor and Hogg were the perfect combination.
"No one could have done that but Dr. Taylor," said Barmore, who was the boys' basketball coach at Ruston High School at the time.
"It was his baby. And Sonja was the perfect one to coach it. Her energy level was such that it just blew you away. She hit the ground running every day. She's one of the finest recruiters this game has ever known."
Tech played its first game in 1974 and lost to Southeastern Louisiana 59-55, an inauspicious start for a program that now has the best winning percentage, .854,, in Division I women's basketball.
Hogg needed patience.
She remembers waiting outside the gym with her players until the men's team finished so they could start practice. The players dressed in the men's freshman locker room, which was right over the boiler room and so hot that one of the first things Hogg did when she got money was put in an air conditioner.
"We had $5,000 for the whole budget -- uniforms, travel, meals, everything," Hogg said.
"But we looked good. We had custom-made uniforms that very first year. A lot of schools then were putting their women's teams in regular shorts and T-shirts with iron-on numbers. We were going to look good as far as $5,000 would go."
Finding players was never a problem because girls basketball is strong in the area. More than 60 players tried out for that first team and Tech finished 13-9. By its fifth season, Tech had won 34 games and reached the AIAW finals. Two years later, the Lady Techsters won the national championship.
Women's basketball was doing exactly what Taylor had hoped it would for the school.
"We had good mid-level football and basketball with players like Karl Malone and Terry Bradshaw, but we were never going to hit the national scene," he said. "Women's basketball seemed to be the avenue to accomplish that.''
In the meantime, Hogg kept asking for scholarships and money to bring in big-name teams and approval to play in Hawaii. Then she wanted to hire Barmore, a former Tech basketball star, as an assistant.
"So I approved that," Taylor said. "She's a very difficult person to say no to. In fact, it got to the point that she'd come in and I'd say, `What now?' "
Once the Lady Techsters had reached the top, Taylor got them to stay there. He didn't want to go the way of Delta State or Immaculata, early powers that faded as larger schools got serious about women's basketball.
When the Mack Assembly Center was built in the early 1980s, Taylor insisted that the men's and women's facilities be the same. He told the coaches to get with the architects and work it out.
Taylor was succeed by Dr. Daniel Reneau, who has continued the program's strong administrative support. That help from the top can't be underestimated, said Mickie DeMoss, who was Tech's first point guard and is now Pat Summitt's top assistant at Tennessee.
"It just gives you instant credibility with everybody else on campus, with donors, with the boosters,'" DeMoss said.
"Dr. Taylor was ahead of his time. He was very supportive. He'd even take recruits up to his office. There's probably still some schools today that the president doesn't even know who the women's basketball coach is."
With Hogg around, there was never any danger of that happening at Louisiana Tech.
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