Before Title IX, There Was Carla Lowry

Carla Lowry, nicknamed Shorty, loved basketball at a time when organized basketball didn’t necessarily love young girls back.

As a young girl in Forest in the 1940s, she loved to shoot the basketball and

Cleveland
Cleveland

she was especially proficient at shooting. That was because she practiced and practiced and practiced and then practiced some more. She did this even though there was scant future in basketball for females back then. There was no WNBA. College scholarships were practically non-existent.

“The only reason to play was because you loved the sport, and, boy, Carla loved it,” says fellow Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer Sylvia Krebs, also from Forest, who was two years ahead of Lowry in school.

Dr. Carla Lowry died last week in Georgetown, Texas, where she had lived for years. She was 76.

In the mid-20th century, big city high schools in Mississippi didn’t even play girls basketball. In small towns like Forest, the girls played three-on-three on both sides of the court because girls were thought too dainty to run the entire court.

But Forest was a girls basketball hotbed, at least partly because a coach named Red Thomas made certain the girls had basketball goals on which to practice.

“Red Thomas acquired a whole bunch of telephone poles from the phone

Carla Lowry
Carla Lowry

company and then got the shop people at the school to make basketball goals with them,” Krebs said. “Because of Red Thomas every kid who loved basketball had a goal to shoot at.”

You can still see those old goals around Forest today.

“Back then, the high school gym was open on Saturdays and we would go and play all day, year-round,” Dr. Sylvia Krebs said. “We played with the boys and against the boys.”

The Forest girls were a powerhouse. They won 81 straight at one point. They were a point of Scott County pride. That old gym was packed for the games. Sometimes, much of the crowd left when the girls went to the dressing room and the boys took the court.

Back then, Clinton was another girls basketball powerhouse, and Gwen White, who goes into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame Saturday night, was the Clinton superstar.

Said Krebs, “It seemed like we played Clinton in the finals of every tournament for three years.”

Like most girls in the 1950s, Sylvia Krebs had no plans to pursue basketball past high school. Lowry, two years behind, was different. She saw an article in Parade Magazine about this college team —the Wayland Baptist Harvest Queens — who competed on the AAU level. (There was no governing body for women’s college sports.) She contacted Wayland Baptist. Wayland Baptist did its homework. Lowry became a Harvest Queen and led the team to two AAU national championships.

“That was Carla,” Krebs said. “When she determined she was going to do something, she just did it. Her enthusiasm, not only for basketball but for life, was something to see. And she had this bubbly personality. People just gravitated to her.”

Lowry made the U.S. National team and won a gold medal in the 1959 Pan American Games at Chicago. She became a highly successful coach, an athletic director and a professor. She earned her master’s degree and then her Ph.D. She wrote books.

Krebs? She also earned her master’s and Ph.D and became an acclaimed history professor both in the U.S. and abroad. She is also an author.

What are the odds? Two young, basketball-loving girls from the same town, becoming acclaimed authors and professors and Mississippi Sports Hall of Famers?

Six new Hall of Famers will be inducted Saturday night, but Lowry last week became the seventh Hall of Famer to pass away since last year’s induction. The reassuring news: Her story, and all the others, will live forever at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.

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