Born and raised in McCool, Lily Margaret Wade enjoyed a decorated career at Cleveland High School in the mid-20s before going on to play for the Lady Statesmen. Women’s basketball was disbanded in 1931 at Delta State just before Wade’s senior season as it was considered “too rough for women.” Wade took it hard when the program ceased. “Losing the program was hard since basketball had been a major part of my life during my youth.”
After a 41-year drought due to the disbandment, Delta State welcomed the sport back for the 1973-74 season and handed it over to a familiar face. With the reinstatement, Title IX and Wade would help give young women an avenue to participate in sports that had been obstructed for Margaret many years before.
Six national championship banners are hoisted in Walter Sillers Coliseum. The first trio was earned in three consecutive seasons (1975-77) in the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women under the direction of Wade. In her first four seasons, Wade assembled an astounding 109-6 record for a .947 winnings percentage.
The combination of Wade and the success of her teams, Delta State fans responded to the popularity of the program by filling the Coliseum every time the Lady Statesmen played, mostly with fans Wade coached at Cleveland High School. With women’s basketball just being reinstated at DSU and the sport as a whole in its infant stages, live television was not an option. A key factor to the dynasty established was Stan Sandroni’s creation of a radio network to broadcast the games live, both on the road and at home.
Van Chancellor, former University of Mississippi head women’s basketball coach, first came in contact with Wade in his first year at Ole Miss. “I was simply in awe of her. She had already won three national championships and her teams represented the gold standard in our sport.” Chancellor reflected on the atmosphere of the packed house at Walter Sillers when his team took the floor against the Lady Statesmen in January 1979. “You saw the championship banners hanging from the rafters and that’s what you were shooting for with your teams.”
A compilation of qualities defines Wade, but those that were directly impacted by her came to a consensus that she was always calm and very even keel. Chancellor added, “I loved the way she carried herself with such grace and poise. She was so well respected and people just wanted to be in her presence. She was a tremendous lady, and it was important that her players reflect the qualities of being young ladies while also excelling on the court.”
Long-time neighbor and coworker Langston Rogers expressed fond memories of watching collegiate women’s basketball with Coach Wade, a frequent occurrence. Rogers recalls one moment when he and Wade were watching Pat Summitt’s Lady Vols play. Wade predicted that Summitt would hold the collegiate record for coaching wins. She was right. Summitt went on to become the winningest coach in basketball history and was influenced by Wade. “Anyone that knew Margaret was touched by her life. She had a passion for teaching and a desire to win that was hard to quench.” The two women’s basketball greats share similarities in the successes of their respective programs but also in recognition. The Naismith Outstanding Contributor to Women’s Basketball Award is given each year to a deserving candidate. Wade was the first ever recipient in 1999, with Summitt receiving the accolade over a decade later in 2013.
Rogers went on to say what the Mother of Modern Women’s Collegiate Basketball meant to the sport and the state of Mississippi. “When Title IX came along, many people who tried 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.” Courage, compassion, loyalty, trust, dedication, kindness, patience, respect, teamwork and wisdom were just a few of many qualities describing Wade’s character.
The rich tradition that was left behind by Wade after she retired following the 1978-79 season was meant to be continued by the next coach in line. Four years passed before another legendary coach took the reigns in Lloyd Clark.
Inheriting the program after its first ever losing season, Clark took over and won three NCAA National Championships in his tenure. “Looking at the banners that hang in Sillers, you can see the legacy that she started. She hung those banners when women’s basketball was just getting started and she created a lot of interest in it. I think everything that we do there today is directly through her,” Clark expressed. “I wish she was still around to see the legacy live on.”
Few people make an impact like Wade did in her coaching career. The Women’s Basketball Coaches Association established the Margaret Wade Trophy in 1978 that is given annually to the NCAA’s Player of the Year. This honor is revered as the most prestigious award in women’s college basketball and regarded as the “Heisman of Women’s Basketball.” Recent recipients include Brittney Griner, Candace Parker, and Diana Taurasi, who have all had successful WNBA careers.
In the words of Lloyd Clark, the best way to describe the impact she had on the game is the Wade Trophy. “That tells you exactly what she meant to the sport. When you have the best player in the country receive an award that is named after her, that says it all.” Chancellor shared a similar opinion. “It is only fitting that the women’s college player of the year award is named for Coach Wade. She always represented what is right about college athletics, and she had a major influence in promoting the growth of women’s basketball.” Everyone knew about Margaret Wade and the Lady Statesmen, whether it be from coaching the sport or following it as a fan. “Their success helped pave the way for so many young women to participate in athletics at the highest level,” Chancellor added.
In basketball and life, limits are meant to be exceeded, goals are meant to be reached, and lives are meant to be impacted. But a legend, a legacy remains constant.
The dedication of the Margaret Wade Statue will be held at Delta State on Friday, Nov. 14 at 2:00 p.m. The ceremony will take place on the West Plaza of Kent Wyatt Hall.