Margaret Wade statue: A fitting tribute

Posted on: November 11,2014

The Margaret Wade Statue set for dedication Friday.

The Margaret Wade Statue set for dedication Friday.

CLEVELAND — Delta State coaching legend Margaret Wade, the first female inductee into your Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame will be honored once again Friday with the dedication of a statue in honor of her indelible legacy.
The dedication ceremony on the Delta State campus will begin at 2 p.m. on the West Plaza of Kent Wyatt Hall. Delta State President Bill LaForge will host the event that features former presidents Dr. Kent Wyatt and Dr. Aubrey Lucas, and former Ole Miss and WNBA head coach Van Chancellor, another Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer.
Wade, inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in 1974, served as head coach of the Lady Statesmen from 1973-79, leading Delta State to three consecutive AIAW National Championships from 1974-75 through 1976-77. During that time, Wade amassed a remarkable 157-23 record and helped pave the way for future female head coaches like Pat Summitt to excel in the sport they love.
“Her first four years back in coaching have been called one of the most amazing accomplishments in sports history,” said Langston Rogers, former Delta State and Ole Miss sports information director and still another MSHOF inductee.
During those four years, Delta State went from having no team at all to Wade leading the Lady Statesmen to a 109-6 record and the three national titles.
Rogers, who was the Delta State publicist for all three of those national championships, consented to answer a few questions about Wade, who died Feb. 26, 1995, at the age of 82.
What is the first word you think of when you think of Margaret Wade? And, why?

Courage.It would have been easy for Margaret to have turned aside President Lucas’ coaching request, but the challenge before her wasn’t
Langston Rogers

Langston Rogers

nearly as great as she had faced in the past.  After all she had won a bout with cancer and survived a near fatal auto accident during the years away from the court.
While success at Delta State brought much joy, it was accompanied by pain for the lady we all came to love and respect.  The cancer and automobile accident had taken its toll.  Severe attacks of arthritis, especially to her knees, made us wonder how she kept going.  At times the travel was almost unbearable.  One night in the Louisiana Superdome, the next in Madison Square Garden.
Having lived across Dean Street from Coach for seven years, I had often watched from my window the many times when it would take almost five minutes for her to get out of her car and into her home.  The urge was always there to scurry over and help, but it didn’t seem appropriate, because deep down I knew this giant of a woman would find the strength to carry on.  For most of us the return to coaching wouldn’t have been worth it, but for Margaret Wade it was just another chapter in her already successful life.

What does Wade mean to you personally?

Having lived across Dean Street from her, I appreciated the way she cared for our children, Laura and Bill.  They called her “Aunt Margaret” and they were simply thrilled when they were with her.  She loved all the kids in our neighborhood and they loved her back. Following her retirement, we became much closer.  I always enjoyed the times she would ask me to come over to watch with her when women’s basketball games were on TV.  She especially loved watching Tennessee and often told me that Pat Head Summitt would one day hold the collegiate record for coaching wins.  She was right.

To the state of Mississippi?

She was an iconic figure in Mississippi long before her national championship success as a coach at Delta State.  The fact that she was the first woman inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame is a testament to just how highly respected she was throughout the state.

To the sport of women’s basketball?

Being called the ‘Mother of Modern Women’s Collegiate Basketball’ pretty much sums it up when discussing her importance to the growth of the sport.  When Title IX came along, many people trying to increase interest in the sport looked no further than Margaret Wade.  She was the perfect example needed to help overcome some of the challenges if women’s basketball was to be seriously accepted.  Her story of being denied the opportunity to compete in the 1930s was well known.  Title IX would help give young women an avenue to participate in sports that had been blocked to Margaret Wade those many years ago.

Talk about her character.

There was never a question when it came to Coach Wade’s character. She represented so many outstanding qualities of good character.  Things like courage, compassion, loyalty, trust, dedication,  kindness, patience, respect, teamwork, and wisdom come to mind when I think of Coach Wade.

What was it like working with her?

It was great working with her, but she could be very demanding.  It was all about fairness when it came to media coverage.  She wanted the local, state and national media to give the Lady Statesmen just as much attention as the Statesmen. It was evident how important that was to her, because she believed the media could help grow the sport.  She cultivated friendships and gained  support from Mississippi journalists like Lee Baker, Orley Hood, Mitch Ariff, Michael Rubenstein and Sue Dabbs.

Talk about the dynasty she created at Delta State for women’s basketball.

Margaret Wade and the Lady Statesmen came along at just the right time.  Women’s basketball on the collegiate level was in its infant stages.  The NCAA hadn’t taken over at that point and the AIAW was the national organization providing all schools — no matter size, division or resources –  a national championship in basketball.  Immaculata had already won three straight championships leading up to that 1974-75 season, but there was little media attention on a national scale.  Live television was not a serious option at that point and few schools packed the house with paying customers.  Delta State fans responded to the popularity of the team by filling Walter Sillers Coliseum every time the Lady Statesmen played.  It reached a point at home games where the men’s team would play first.  Much of that support for the Lady Statesmen came from Cleveland fans who wanted to support Coach Wade.  She had coached many of those fans when they attended Cleveland High School.  Winning also helped.

Having never coached five-on-five before accepting President Aubrey Lucas’ request to come out of retirement, Coach Wade would be the first to tell you that she depended on her graduate assistant coaches — Brenda Parker, Mickey Miller, Phil Adair and Jimmy Butler – to help achieve the level of success the Lady Statesmen enjoyed.  That combination, along with the recruiting of Melvin Hemphill, provided the foundation which led to those three AIAW national titles.  Mr. Hemphill saw to it that Delta State got its share of Mississippi’s high school All-State players.  Cornelia, Debbie, Lucy, Ramona and Wanda soon became household names to those who followed women’s basketball. The ESPN of today would have loved covering those five. 

Another key factor to the dynasty came when Stan Sandroni set up a radio network to broadcast the games live, both at home and on the road.  We can’t overlook the role that Stan played in that success and also the role Coach Horace McCool’s leadership provided when he scheduled games in places like New York’s Madison Square Garden, the Louisiana Superdome, Hawaii, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Miami.  The Delta State administration provided financial support as did Alyce and Rich Richardson.  It was truly a team effort by so many people.

Favorite stories?

There are so many stories that can be told by the Lady Statesmen players and those people who were close to the program.  Regretfully, the best story teller, Stan Sandroni, is no longer with us.  Stan was so looking forward to the Margaret Wade statue dedication and was on the committee planning the event.  I’m sure he would have had the audience laughing while recalling that late-night hunt down the streets of New York City to find Coach Wade some pie.  She liked her dessert.
Rick Cleveland will sign Mississippi’s Greatest Athletes Friday afternoon from 4:30 to 6at Cotton Row Books in Cleveland.


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