In a scene reminiscent of “Remember the Titans,” members of the now closed Pelican All Saints High School transferred to Stanley High School during the offseason transforming the Class B school into a girls’ basketball powerhouse.
The undefeated Lady Panthers (41-0) have had a couple of close calls during the season, but will meet Lacassine at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the LHSAA Class B state semifinals. A win in Lake Charles’ Burton Coliseum will launch coach Cleve Craig’s club into Friday’s 6 p.m. state championship contest.
But the trip to get from here to there hasn’t always been easy, especially for seniors like Tasha Hall, who rides a bus two hours to school each day thanks to the DeSoto Parish School Board’s decision to close her home school.
Despite the long rides and her dedication to basketball, Hall maintains a 3.8 grade point average and hopes to attend Centenary College next year and play basketball for Kristen Davis.
“It was difficult at first because we didn’t want to go to another school,” Hall said recently about the 60 former Pelican students now attending Stanley. “The travel was the biggest challenge for me, because on game days I may not get home till 11 or 12 o’clock. But basketball made our adjustment easier.”
Hall, Meshee Alexander and Sara Housley were the big three of seven basketball players who made the move from predominantly black Pelican to predominately white Stanley in a minority to majority transfer. But unlike the situation four decades ago at T.C. Williams High School in “Titans,” or with the Byrd-Valencia High School merger in Shreveport in 1970, racial problems were almost non-existent.
“It has been smooth sailing from that standpoint and they’re all OUR kids now,” Stanley assistant principal Brian Anderson said. “The kids that were here have done a good job making people feel welcome – that’s good home raisin’.”
Hall agrees. “It went smooth with me. I haven’t seen any racial things,” she said.
And success on the basketball court, which Craig brought with him from across DeSoto Parish, has changed the face and outlook of the school in a lot of ways.
Anderson, who has been at Stanley for 15 years as a coach, athletic director or administrator, said the alteration has been dramatic.
“If anyone wants to rob Stanley, Tuesday would be a good night because Stanley will be wide open. We’ll all be in Lake Charles,” he said. “Our softball and baseball teams have been canceling or changing games, because they want to be there to support these kids. In my 15 years I’d never seen us win a playoff basketball game and now we’re in the state semifinals.”
For the Lady Panthers’ home playoff game against Simsboro on Friday, a standing-room-only crowd of more than 600 saw the team dismantle the visitors 64-44. The gate was almost $2,000.
“For a girls basketball game in Stanley, that is amazing,” said Craig, whose team won the state title two years ago and advanced to the semifinals last season. “There were a lot of old timers in the stands who realize something special is going on. There were so many people standing at the ends that the refs had to keep clearing people out.”
The Stanley girls might not be a flash in the pan with their success on the court. Not only do they have one of the best coaches in the state, the team loses only Hall from this year’s team. And the success in 2014 has created a lot of interest in the team. Craig had just a handful of returnees off Stanley’s 2012-13 team when he arrived and said he was worried about what the future held.
“But I ordered 20 uniforms when I got here and we have all 20 filled. If I had some more uniforms, I have some managers who would be dressed,” Craig said. “Someone told me that if a fight broke out, we should have the advantage.”
The Stanley middle school team went 10-2 this season and has some “good athletes,” according to Craig.
“There are a bunch of them over there and they are long and athletic,” he said. “We should be competitive for a long time.”
While everything seems to be running smoothly, Craig said all of the kinks haven’t been worked out. He makes the daily 35-minute drive to coach, teach and help in the adjustment, while parents and assistant coaches assist the former Pelican students return home after games.
“It’s a daily thing,” he says. “They’ve never had to worry about basketball interfering with softball or baseball games here. We’ve had to adjust. But you couldn’t ask for better support from our principal (Carolyn Phillips) and Brian. They bent over backwards making everyone feel welcome.”
Hall said she has learned to manage her time wisely in order to keep her grades where she wants them. Meanwhile, the lessons she’s picked up by attending Stanley may serve her well down the line.
“It’s made me more dedicated in what I want to succeed in. I feel like I’m stronger and I know what I want basketball wise,” Hall said. “If I was weak in basketball, I probably would have just quit. Now I wake up and say ‘let’s go do this. Go to school and then go succeed in basketball.'”