MONROE — When the final buzzer sounds today in UL-Monroe’s Fant-Ewing Coliseum, Natchitoches Central coach Emma Boozman will walk off the court for the final time as a head girls basketball coach. She’s hanging up her coaching whistle after 36 years of trying to coax teenage girls to do her bidding.
Meanwhile, Southwood coach Steve McDowell plans to keep soldiering on in a profession he has dominated for nearly 30 years at Southfield and Southwood. For most of the past 20 years, the LHSAA state championship has had a distinct Lady Cowboys flavor. McDowell has won 11 titles (one at Southfield) and finished runner-up five times.
As former district rivals, Southwood and NCHS have had numerous heated matchups during the regular season, as well as in the playoffs. Boozman is one of the few coaches anywhere in the state to hold a 2-1 series advantage over McDowell in playoff meetings.
Even trying hard, McDowell and Boozman couldn’t have more disparate personalities. A near body-double for Chuck Norris, McDowell is quiet, reserved eschewing any thought of a bulletin board quote for the opposition. Boozman is gregarious, open and always good for a laughable quote or two. She’s from Winnsboro, after all, and once dated contemporary Christian singer Wayne Watson.
But Boozman and McDowell, who picked up his coaching expertise from his father, Laddie McDowell, and Gene Hamner, are also similar in more ways than most people have noticed. Both have won multiple state titles, with Boozman picking up one with the Lady Chiefs and two during her 6-year stint at Campti (now Lakeside).
Both ended up at their current schools because their jobs were phased out at previous stops. Boozman started her coaching career at Fairview Alpha, which was consolidated after her fourth season at the school. She moved to Campti, then to NCHS. Southwood was one of the few openings available for McDowell when Southfield decided to drop its high school program.
There aren’t many coaches in the state who have sent more players to Division I colleges. Boozman can claim Brandi Broome, Meredith Graf, Linda Grayson, Sandy Pugh and Annie Harris. The latter three were mainstays on former NSU coach James Smith’s powerhouse clubs.
McDowell’s honor roll includes Alana Beard to Duke and Morenike Atunrase to Texas A&M, along with Danielle Whitehurst and Ty Moore to the Lady Techsters.
It won’t surprise many to know the duo have stayed at their current schools at least in part because of their children. McDowell, a Captain Shreve graduate, has had multiple opportunities to move to the next level, but Maggie, 15, and Matthew, 10, along with wife Teresa, have helped keep him on Walker Road.
“Coaching on the collegiate level takes so much time away from your family,” McDowell said. “And I love coaching at the high school level.”
Boozman, who modeled her coaching philosophy after LSWA Hall of Famer Carrice Russell Baker, drove her daughter, Erica, to golf tournaments during a four-summer stretch. The lack of guidance her Lady Chiefs received during those off-seasons cost her some wins during the ensuing school year.
“But I wouldn’t change that for the world,” she said. “She is my only child and I treasure that time we spent together.”
Still, Boozman has been the hometown favorite for the Northwestern State women’s basketball job in the past.
“I guess the good Lord needed me at Natchitoches Central,” Boozman said.
Both have been prolific in spawning more coaches. For McDowell, there’s Jenna Thomas, Monique Reece, Crystal Jackson, Cindee Wright, Amy Hodges and Atunrase. Boozman has turned out coaches like Nikki Lacour Jones, who will sit beside her on the Fant-Ewing bench on Saturday, then succeed her following Saturday’s buzzer.
It seems only fitting that the final matchup between the two longtime survivors, comes in Monroe on the campus of ULM. McDowell played baseball for the former Northeast Indians, while Boozman’s best friend, Mona Martin is the head women’s basketball coach at the school.
It’s always been about the kids for these two legendary coaches, doubtless headed for the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in the near future. McDowell wanted the focus off him and onto his players at a Friday practice, while Boozman tried to deflect things the same way.
“If we win it, I want the focus to be on the kids and not me,” said Boozman, who plans travel and visit Erica in Birmingham, while waiting on a grandchild that has yet to be conceived. “And I want to become a better golfer.”
McDowell loses five seniors, including twins Aeriel and Aerika Robertson, Keona Favis and Kourtney Pennywell, along with point guard Jessy Ellis to graduation. Doubtless, he’ll just re-load for another run next winter.
While Boozman will close the book on her coaching career, McDowell will simply start another chapter with his well-honed coaching philosophy.
“You just be yourself and care about the kids,” he said. “You have to surround yourself with good people and I’ve been lucky with that. And you must have kids who want to learn.”