Ava Lee Abdo Breeden,
The 1931 Lady Statesmen Rabbit Foot Squad (Front row, l. to r.) Sarah Evans, Margaret Wade, Mary Ellen Chapman, Erline Holly, Elizabeth Caldwell (Back row, l. to r.) Dimple Bryan, Wenonah Montgomery, Quinn Gorton, Ava Lee Abdo, Anne Rue Gorton, Evelyn Ezelle, Lorene Jumper
As the Delta State University women’s basketball team continues its bid through NCAA postseason play, it seems only fitting and appropriate to pay homage to the trailblazers of the program.
Delta State recently recognized Ava Lee Abdo Breeden, of Fairborn, Ohio, with the first-ever Alumni Legacy Award. The award, presented by the Alumni Association, is given to an alumnus deserving of the honor for their outstanding and long-lasting contributions to the life and legacy of Delta State University. Breeden is recognized for the legacy she leaves, as she accomplished many “firsts” at Delta State Teachers College (DSTC).
A native of Leland, she came to DSTC in 1929. Short on money to attend the college, Breeden made a personal visit to then president, Dr. William Kethley. Kethley was made aware of her outstanding basketball abilities by Dean William H. Ziegel, the then head coach of the Lady Statesman squad, and she was offered a basketball scholarship that would pay room and board, which at that time was $22 per month.
Recognized as the first women’s basketball player to earn four letters, Breeden proved to be a versatile athlete at DSTC, earning spots on one of the first cheerleading, field hockey and tennis teams. She won the state doubles tennis championship with her partner Wenonah Montgomery, which again, is recognized as one of the first state championships won by a Delta State athletic team.
Despite her versatility and abundant talent, it was women’s basketball that truly remained Breeden’s passion. A teammate to the legendary Margaret Wade, their team earned fame as the “Rabbit Foot Squad.”
As the legend goes, a spectator merely mentioned that the team was on such a winning streak that they must have their lucky “rabbit’s foot” with them. The moniker stuck and the squad would capture the Mississippi Valley Championship in 1930 and 1931 and the state of Mississippi Championship in 1929, 1930 and 1931.
And even though those early enthusiastic crowds overwhelmed the newly constructed gymnasium, the team and the catchy new title lasted only until 1932. That year, DSU officials discontinued the program, citing, “Intercollegiate basketball for women could not be defended on sound ground.”
It would take almost 40 years for Lady Statesmen basketball to return to the hardwood, as it was Wade, Breeden’s teammate, who initiated Delta State’s resurrection in 1972. The seasons that followed under Wade’s watchful eye, 1973-1979, brought the Lady Statesmen and Delta State into the national spotlight. The mother of modern women’s basketball, as she would later be known, led Delta State to three consecutive A.I.A.W. National Championships in 1975, 1976 and 1977.
It is that legacy of women’s basketball that Breeden helped perpetuate and a significant factor in her receiving the inaugural Alumni Legacy Award – but not the only reason.
In 1931, Breeden was invited by Ziegel to teach second year French, making her the first DSTC student to be offered a teaching position at her alma mater. Breeden also received the second diploma in 1932 for her outstanding academic achievement, earning the salutatorian distinction. The achievement marked the first Delta State employee to earn that honor.
Following her years at DSTC, Breeden went on to distinguish herself, both, personally and professionally. She retired in 1989 as a GS-12 Contract Specialist/Negotiator at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio where she received numerous honors ranging from the Pentagon to the Dayton Intergovernmental EEO Council to the Hispanic Heritage Committee.
In 1972, she entered the world of modeling, becoming a runway and tearoom model, while also appearing in various print campaigns. She began playing golf in 1978 and co-chaired golf tournaments that raised scholarship money for deserving students. Breeden also served as President of the Fairborn (Ohio) Chapter of the American Business Women’s Association (ABWA), where she helped raise money for scholarships for women. She has twice been named ABWA Women of the Year in 1977 and 1998.
The Alumni Association, which is comprised of 21,000 living alumni, is currently accepting nominations for the 2006 Alumni Legacy Award. Nominations can be mailed to the Delta State University Alumni Association, Box 3104, Cleveland, MS 38733 or emailed firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, address, and phone number.
For more information, please contact the Delta State Alumni Association at (662) 846-4660.