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Belles Of The Ball
Jaime Diaz
November 19, 1986
Off the court they're ladies, but when they put on basketball uniforms they become Lady Techsters—Louisiana Tech's all-business dynamos
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November 19, 1986

Belles Of The Ball

Off the court they're ladies, but when they put on basketball uniforms they become Lady Techsters—Louisiana Tech's all-business dynamos

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Teresa Weatherspoon is all rolling shoulders and wild-child rhythm as she dribbles upcourt during an informal Louisiana Tech practice. There are no coaches around, and it seems an ideal time for the 5'8" junior point guard to loose her power and grace into something positively rococo. But as she crosses midcourt the juking stops, and she calls out a play for the low post. Sorry- Lady Techsters just don't do playground.

What they do is team. And to the genteel folks of Ruston, La., that kind of unselfishness is what gets Lady Techsters placed on pedestals high enough to dunk from. "Y'know," a waitress at the Blue Light Cafe will say, "that girl Pam Kelly didn't hardly average half a game her senior year [1982], but she didn't say a thing about it. And she was so good she won that Wade Trophy [awarded to the best female player in the country] anyway." Or a drugstore clerk will opine: "Little Kim Mulkey never did score but seven points a game. Of course, they knew who they needed to quarterback that '84 Olympic team." Mulkey herself, now an assistant coach, explains Louisiana Tech's philosophy thusly: "We reach our individual success through our team success. It's the greatest thing about being a Lady Techster."

Who could argue? Since starting its women's basketball program in 1974-75, Louisiana Tech has gone 334-60 without a single losing season. Tech won national championships in 1981 and 1982, setting the women's record of 54 consecutive victories along the way. From 1979 to 1982, ferocious Lady Techster defenses held opponents below 50% shooting in 107 straight games. Tech made six straight NCAA Final Fours from 1979 through 1984 and has now been in the national Top 10 for 130 weeks running.

But Louisiana Tech has done more than just win; schools such as Immaculata, Delta State and Old Dominion were already doing that in the early '70s. Tech was the first women's program to get people to notice. From Ruston, a town of 22,000 some 70 miles east of Shreveport, it drew enough fans to lead the nation in home attendance from 1981 to '84. After becoming one of the first schools to provide its women's team with a budget equal to that of the men's team, Tech proved that women's basketball can be a revenue maker and an image enhancer. And at least in Ruston, where the Lady Techsters often draw crowds of 6,000-plus, it proved women's basketball can be the biggest show in town.

Other, bigger schools have since followed Tech's lead into the big time. But Texas, Auburn and Southern Cal, to name three, have megabuck football revenues to dip into. Last season NCAA champion Texas just barely broke Tech's single-season average home attendance record of 5,284. High school blue-chippers are now recruited by 20 teams nationwide instead of two or three. It's no accident that Tech hasn't made the Final Four the last two years.

Louisiana Tech is a good bet to make it back this year, but even if it doesn't, the Lady Techster mystique still holds sway in the women's game. Weather-spoon heard as much while a member of the U.S. teams that won gold medals in the Goodwill Games and world championships this summer in Moscow. " Cheryl Miller and a bunch of other girls told me they'd have loved to have played at Tech," says Weatherspoon. "We have the best coach, the best fans and the most discipline. I think deep down those players know they would have become even better at Tech."

Of course, not everyone is cut out for Lady Techsterism. In Ruston, where there is no great tradition of Women's Lib, the team carries an almost antebellum image, and Lady Techsters are required to be ladylike. A Lady Techster is likely to be a good student and a devout Christian, probably favors needlepoint over Madonna tapes on airplanes and fears a drug test about as much as she does an airport metal detector. "We like them to be winners on court, but nice-looking ladies off it," says Mulkey, who might wear pigtails on court but is the picture of proper southern womanhood as a coach and recruiter. "You don't wear raggy old jeans to class. There are some things a Lady Techster just can't do."

Such an attitude easily rankles, particularly when the gentlewomen are on court, knocking the whey out of opponents. But Tech seems to inspire respect more than resentment. "Yeah, they hold their heads a little higher in the air than everyone else," says the flamboyant Miller, the former USC Woman of Troy who passed on a chance to attend Tech. "But it didn't bug me. It was a good cockiness because they had earned it. They were Tech. And they were a team."

The team effort starts with Louisiana Tech president F Jay Taylor. When he allocated $5,000 for the first women's basketball team in 1974, his idea was to get Tech known as more than just the alma mater of Terry Bradshaw. Taylor got a fireball named Sonja Hogg to carry out his mandate. Her first move as coach was to nix the school nickname—Bulldogs—in any connection with her team because it was unfeminine. She also ruled out the wearing of knee or elbow pads for the same reason and, because she did not like her ladies showing their armpits, Tech has always dressed in sleeved jerseys. By 1977, when it had become clear that the womens' game had advanced past the delicate stage, Hogg convinced Taylor to hire a genuine X's and O's man named Leon Barmore to handle the on-court coaching. Then Hogg hit every civic group in Ruston to get people out to see the Lady Techsters.

Fortunately, a lot of people had nothing better to do. You can't buy anything stronger than beer anywhere in Lincoln Parish, and most of the gathering is done in the 46 churches in its 452 square miles. It is a slow-moving place for the natives; it can be like a sensory-deprivation tank for visiting teams. "The highlight before you play Tech is staying in the Ruston Holiday Inn and renting video movies," says USC coach Linda Sharp.

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