Interview with Margaret Wade by Jeff Reep

Coach Wade as a player, coach and author has meant more of the advancement of women’s basketball than any other individual in the country. Having lived and worked in Cleveland, she is going to share her insight on how women’s basketball is viewed in Cleveland.


JR: Coach Wade would you please give us a brief overview of your career as a player, coach and author.

MW: I start with as a high school player and that was many years ago, in fact it was in 1927-1928. At that time the court was divided into 3 divisions, we had 2 forwards, 2 guards and 2 sides, you couldn’t get over the line either time, anything. What is interesting was that most games were played outside. I can remember one game we played that it was snowing. We played under a lot of adverse conditions, but we played and we loved it. Then as a college player that was in 1933-1935 we had a good basketball team at Delta State University. In fact we won 3 state championships at that time also the Southern Championship. We had some outstanding players. I played a little semi-pro basketball, my first two years out of college at Tupelo, the Tupelo Red Wings, we had some good players from all over the states. We played teams out of Chicago, Tulsa and Memphis, real outstanding teams, in fact we played the national champs in Tupelo one night. The score to that game was 15-12. You can see how basketball has changed. It was during that time that I injured my knee in that second year that I gave up playing basketball. As for an author I have only written a few articles for the HPENR magazine and it was on defensive and offensive basketball and then of course Coach Hikenson and I have this book that has been published this year that we are very proud of.

JR: As a college player what was the feeling of the student body in the community towards women’s basketball?

MW: We had the complete support of all the student body, about 400 students. They did attend our basketball games and the community had always supported us. It started back when I was coaching in High School, that was all that Cleveland knew, that is what they wanted to do, they loved basketball.

JR: The years you were basketball coach at Cleveland High School are compelling 335 wins against only 67 losses. Did you see any changes develop?

MW: Maybe in the money, but not too much. You know that we have progressed. Things are more expensive. I can well remember the uniforms that we had in high school, were the best. We didn’t buy them too often. We have always been known as the nice looking basketball team. Then there is travel, first we traveled in school buses, but it got old. I go back and say that the community supported us and the parents came to me and did the driving for our girls and that was real good. We didn’t lack anything. I think you have mentioned the press. The thing of interest in my high school that we had a lot of pictures of all the teams that played and the different sports. We certainly got our share of the press anytime and when I left high school I did not know what would happen to the offices. People said it should be made a museum because of so may pictures it had and it did stay like that for a while, but when new people come in they do different things.  About the attitude of administration, I am the type of person that I couldn’t do anything unless my administrators or the people that want me to do it believe in me. Anytime we performed I also had the complete support of the administration. Even now I have to be wanted for our girls to really perform effectively. The attitude of the student body was just absolute for us and in high school we played packed crowd every night.  I might say, you may not know Jeff, this High School at Cleveland, they don’t play the games there now, but it is behind the building. We wore that building out, it was full every night we played.

JR: Out of all the outstanding teams that you have coached at Cleveland High School, what team stands out in your mind as being the best team?

MW: I had to check on that last night, because Alice West Richardson was on that team and when I mention her everybody knows her. She told me when she graduated, 1948, her team that was seniors then, in fact when they were in the eight grade, they were fine ball players. In their sophomore, Junior and Senior year we went to the finals of the state, we lost those three games with about four points. The first time about 1 point, second time about 2 points, the third time about 1 point. That had to be real outstanding team and I stayed there so long that good teams would come in cycles. In about ten years later I had another fine ball player that was in 1959, the time when I left. I don’t want my girls to know that I have ever picked any team as outstanding, but that had to be the best teams.

JR: Did the student body in the community appreciate these teams more than the others?

MW: I think so, because everybody loves winners and we were winning. They supported us full students and the community. It was rewarding within it self.

JR: What was the reason for dropping the women’s program at Delta State University?

MW: It was Delta State College then. They called me in, because I was captain of the team. It was Dr. Kethley and he said that they are going to drop the girl’s basketball. It was almost unbelievable for me. I asked him for his reasons. He said that it was too hard on the girls. I want to make this statement it was hard on us, but you think, when we quit basketball we were playing 6 girls to the court, playing 7 minute quarters. When we came back in 1972 or around that time we were playing 20-minute halves and 5 girls. You can do what you are trained to do. At that time other schools dropped, like Ole miss and Millsaps, which made it hard to arrange a schedule.

JR: When the program was dropped what was the feeling of the student body and the community toward that?

MW:  The student body was real upset about that, well so was the community. I called the girls on the team and told them that it was going to be dropped. The girls on the team was so upset and we had ourselves a little ceremony and we burned our uniforms and buried them and so forth.

JR: Did this have an affect on the women’s basketball program at Cleveland High School?

MW: I don’t think that this particular thing did this that time, because they had good teams and continued to play. Cleveland High has always been a leader in basketball and track. Later on of course they dropped it, but it was quite a few years later.

JR: What was the reaction towards your retirement from Cleveland High School, after all that outstanding years?

MW: It wasn’t exactly a retirement. Of course I was leaving. I guess retiring from Cleveland High. People couldn’t understand why I was so upset. I was leaving a bunch of outstanding athletes. It was hard for me and I didn’t want to leave. I loved to work with the young people, they didn’t think that I would leave, neither did the superintendent. I didn’t intend to leave. The superintendent told me the job is open at Delta state, it is mine if I wanted it and I didn’t think I wanted it. As time drew nearer some of the girls came in, they were real fine young ladies and one of them said we hear you going to Delta State. I said yes. She said that they had a meeting and they wanted me to go. So I knew I was coming to Delta State. It was hard. I accepted the job at Delta State 5 minutes before the time run out. I called Dr Ewing and said I guess I take your job. He said that he didn’t want any guessing he wants to know. Then I said that I would take it. Then I started crying. He said to my superintended she took it but she didn’t want it. It didn’t take me that long, took me over three years to get over to even talk about Cleveland High or go even back and see them play.

JR: You were practically appointed to that Delta State Women’s job in 1973, at that time was there any opposition to starting the Delta State program back again?

MW: No, I don’t think there was any opposition. When I was called in and told that we were going to start basketball again, Dr. Lucas said that the president of the Student Government made the statement that he thought that we should start girl’s basketball here, because they were starting it back in other schools. He thought that maybe we were loosing some students. I was really pleased that a young gentleman asked for the women to start and, of course, I didn’t think that there is any opposition.

JR: Coach Wade, which of the 3 champions teams, is most appreciated by the student body in the community?

MW: I think that not any was more appreciated than the other, because when we won the first one it was unbelievable. The second one was still unbelievable and then third I couldn’t believe it again. I will have to go back and say that maybe the first one, because we had only been organized a year and as we played those two years getting ready for that national tournament that second year, each time the crowd would get larger and larger. They believed in us and thought we had a good team. Their statement was, “ let’s play the best.”  The first national tournament was in Harrisburg Virginia, Madison College. Those were the people I thought about when I walked in that night and that place was packed, in fact they had quit selling tickets. When we came in the people I thought about was the people down in Cleveland and I wished that they would be able to sit with me and go through that I had to go through on that bench that night, it was really something. It was indeed amazing to see how our team actually took over that crowd. It was almost as if the whole coliseum were standing for our girls. I think that was so outstanding after that tournament. Let me tell you about the people that came up from Cleveland and Delta State. It was real interesting to note that after every game, we get telegrams and telephone calls, telling us that so many students and people had left for the tournament and would be there for the next game.  We got so many telegrams at that first one that the man from the telegraph office called me and said are you in and I said yes. He said I have a got a whole lot of telegrams for you. We got far over 150. They mentioned quiet a bit in the papers. After we won that first tournament, the thing that was of interest besides being real good, was that the Richardson’s in the west rented a steak house nearby and all the Cleveland and Delta State people were at that steak house. We had one good steak. There were a lot of different things done for us, when we came back to Memphis we were met by about 100 people from Cleveland that had driven up and a couple of highway patrol men. We came in Cleveland that night with six patrolmen and Cleveland police leading us in. When we got to the Union it was raining and storming and tornado watch, but that didn’t keep anybody from being there and there were cars all over the campus, from the coliseum to the Union. That was I guess the most outstanding return trip home. But I might say we went to Penn State for the second tournament. We of course played real well there. The thing that was of interest there was that we played a catholic school in the finals, there were a lot of nuns there. The thing we didn’t especially liked was that they had come to our hotel, rented our café and all of the eating places there. It made us go to another place. At this time there was about 200 people from Cleveland there. They will still tell me now that that was the best time they ever had was at Penn State. But after winning that one. They made arrangements for the whole cafeteria at Penn State for us. I remember Allison’s speech when she got up and said she this was getting munitions feeding the people, but it was certainly a good munitions. It was certainly appreciated. When we came home, had the same kind of ritual, people meeting so forth and us.

The third one that was played at University of Minnesota. We played Tennessee in the semi-final game and I didn’t see this I was told this, because I can turn everything of I don’t watch and listen to what people say. They said that when our girls were introduced all of Tennessee, who was on the opposite site, they were behind newspapers and wouldn’t even look up recognizing our girls. They felt that we got enough press and there was no intention of them paying any attention to us. We beat them with 3 points in the semi-finals. We came home and of course beat LSU with 13 points in the final game. This time there were so many people there the same people got a hotel to feed us. One reason they were having such a good time at those tournaments, was because we were winning. The third time when we came back we were again back at the Union, but they had the team upstairs looking down. That was when I got my third Cadillac.

JR: What effect did the three national championships and the national recognition have on Delta State University and Cleveland, Mississippi?

MW: It had a tremendous effect. You can mention Delta State University and people would say that is were they have good basketball and you can mention Cleveland and they would say that is were Delta State is. We were mentioned in all the outstanding sports magazines and have the articles, which we have all kept and will cherish. It is certainly been effected.

JR: How important is winning in the eyes of the student body and the community here in Cleveland?

MW: Really winning is everything, but I have never coached to win at any cost. That is really why we play, is to win. That is what we try to do. It is a funny world if you win; they expect you to win that is also a good feeling, because we all strive for the best.

JR: What was the reaction to your retirement from the Delta state university?

MW: There were not too much of reaction. I think everybody knew that I was just trying to get through with the girls that I started with, because I did have arthritic knees, age was telling and I think people kind of expected it. It was hard. I have always said that I have stayed young with the young ones and that has been my philosophy. That will run out some time.

JR: I like to thank Coach Wade on the behalf of Delta State University and myself for taking this time to do this interview. Your career has been a credit to Delta State University, Cleveland Mississippi and women’s basketball throughout the country.