By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
It began early in the 1974-75 school year when some Missouri Southern students went to instructor Sallie Roper Beard and said they wanted to start a women’s basketball team.
“I think the first time there were two — Terrie Dresh and Betsy Taylor,” Beard said. “I had no idea it was coming, no inkling what I was getting myself into. I was willing to help them because you could tell they were serious about it.
“I went to Max Oldham (MSSU athletics director), and Max was very supportive. He gave us a whopping budget of $2,000. That was enough to get us through an 11-game schedule.
“This happened in 1974, two years after Title IX passed. It was something we were all aware of. Did I understand how big a deal it was at the time? No, but I feel privileged I was a part of it.”
The Lions had an 11-player roster that first year. They got off to an early start — literally — with practices held before sunrise.
“We started at 5:30 in the morning,” Beard said. “We dismissed at 7 to give them time to get ready for their 8 o’clock classes.”
Most of the players had zero basketball experience, which was the same as their coach.
“I had to teach them layups,” Beard said. “I taught the three-man weave. Coach Shipley (R.C. Shipley, the MSSU men’s coach) helped me out a little bit. He taught me the give-and-go, the pick-and-roll. He taught me three or four basic plays.
“I taped things to the floor, drew arrows on the floor. The main thing I taught them that I think we got the most production out of was how important movement away from the ball was. At that point, it was a very cerebral concept to them. It might as well have been some kind of algebraic equation because it was so foreign to them. It was a learning experience for all of us.”
On Dec. 4, 1974, the Lions played their first game and lost a 71-61 decision at Evangel. Dresh led the Lions with 14 points, and she was joined in the starting lineup by Juanita Elbrader, Linda Ummel, Debbie Nelson and Taylor. Reserves were Cheryl Allen, Janet Gladwin, Cindy Hearn, Chris Santee, Teresa Franklin and Roanna Patterson.
Eight days later the Lions played their first home game and earned their first victory – 69-60 over Pittsburg State behind 23 points from Elbrader and 22 from Dresh.
The Lions went 9-2 that first season, highlighted by two victories over rivals Pittsburg State and Drury. They were 15-6 and 11-13 in the next two seasons before Beard stepped down as coach.
“The game was growing by leaps and bounds,” she said. “Girls were coming out for the team who had playing experience. We were playing in the CSIC. I was in over my head. That’s when we recruited G.I. Willoughby as coach.”
The Lions finished second in the 1982 NAIA Tournament and shared the CSIC title in 1985 and 1986, all under Jim Phillips. The Lions tied for second in the MIAA in 1994 and 1995 under Scott Ballard and 1996 under Carrie Kaifes.
The foundation for all that success was built 39 years ago when some students asked to start a basketball team.
“There’s just a warm spot in my heart for all those girls and the commitment they made,” Beard said. “The genesis for the success for the program goes back to those girls on that basketball team. That’s where it all started, and it started with a sense of commitment.”