But Ruston comes alive when the women play. "The Lady Techsters have been our only link to the national picture," says Keith Prince, Tech's longtime S.I.D. "They are better than most anyone, and you can't get that here from anything else." Some of the Lady Techsters' most ardent fans are senior citizens. Residents of the Alpine nursing home huddle around the radio when the Techsters play. The more ambulatory elders go to the games in droves. One of them is L.C. Terry, a retired engineer who just turned 80. Terry even shows up at practice sessions, and as Weather-spoon and company bumped and dived a few feet in front of him on one such occasion recently, he considered why everyone in Ruston is so taken with the team. "Well," he said, "they're good."
It is Barmore's mission to keep them that way. After sharing the head coaching duties with Hogg for three years, Barmore, 42, became sole head coach last season when Hogg left to pursue business opportunities in Houston. Barmore burns so hot he has twice passed out from heat exhaustion while coaching Tech games. He also raises the temperature of game officials enough to lend his own meaning to the word Techster. "The worst part of me is my temper," he says. "It's also the best part of me."
Barmore is Ruston through and through. He was a gunning point guard at both Ruston High and Tech, and he coached a winning men's team at Ruston High before joining up with Hogg. "the first thing I noticed about the women's game is that nobody guarded anybody," says Barmore. "I couldn't let that continue." Says Texas coach Jody Conradt: "Leon was one of the first to really push women, to demand the absolute best from them. He's very intense."
Barmore is equal parts God-fearing country boy and rough-edged athletic despot. He can justify his rage at a player by saying, "You're not presenting Christ with too good a gift if you're going to be dragging your butt all day." Barmore is all the more driven because he is in his hometown. "I see so much pleasure brought to this area by the Lady Techsters,"hesays.
Barmore's players invariably end up thanking him for imposing his perfectionism. "I used to think, How am I ever gonna play for that mean man?" says junior guard Angela Lawson. But Lawson and her teammates soon learn how fleeting a woman's basketball career is and how important it is to leave it with no regrets. To remind them, assistant coach Jennifer White, perhaps the most hustling competitor in Tech history, has a framed needlepoint message on her office wall. It reads:
Today I gave all I had
What I've kept
I've lost forever.
As a rule, Lady Techsters don't keep much for themselves. Which might be the reason they've owned so much of women's basketball.