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Hazel Walker and the Arkansas Travelers: Playing men with men’s rules

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The Arkansas Travelers autographed this team photo for me about 1960. Hazel Walker is in the middle,·third from the left is my friend Jenny McGuffie, and on the far right on the end is Toby Rayburn. I went to college with them.

“They wanna play ball? Ladies, let’s show them how to play ball!”

Those were the words of Hazel Walker, speaking to her all-girls basketball team during a time out in the first quarter of a game at Mississippi College about 1960.

Hazel Walker and the Arkansas Travelers were a team of talented women athletes who played basketball against male teams and by men’s team rules.

The girls, all good-looking young women in their 20s, put on quite a show wherever they played all across the country, and it was always a fun-filled event. They traveled in a nine-passenger DeSoto stationwagon.

Hazel was serious when she advertised that her girls were “Ladies on and off the court.”

At Mississippi College they were playing members of the M Club—men who had lettered in the sport—and many were pretty smug about their athletic prowess. The guys didn’t want to play around, to put on a show. They wanted to play basketball.

I don’t remember the score, but the Arkansas Travelers won handily.

Jenny McGuffie was selected Class Favorite in 1956. This photo is from the school yearbook, “Whispering Pines.”

Two of the team were friends of mine, classmates when we went to Southwest Mississippi Junior College at Summit from 1954 to ‘56. Toby Rayburn was from Lexie, south of Tylertown, and Jenny McGuffie was from Monticello. They were outstanding athletes in college, and their performances on the court caught the attention of Hazel Walker.

Hazel was from Ashdown, Ark., born in 1914. She began playing basketball when she was in high school. In her senior year she was selected for the all-state team. She won a scholarship to play for the Tulsa Business College and in her second year they were the national champions.

She later played for other teams that also won national titles three years in a row, and Hazel was l chosen most valuable player.

In free-throw attempts, she won the national title six times and, in 1940, hit 49 of 80 free-throw attempts and won the international free-throw competition twice.

In 1946, Hazel joined the All American Red Heads, an all-girls team that played men’s teams by men’s rules. After three years she decided to form her own team, the Arkansas Travelers. She was the first woman to own a professional basketball team. She was awarded numerous honors, and in 2001, she was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame and is included among the 50 greatest sports figures.

Hazel died in 1990. I don’t know when the Arkansas Travelers disbanded, and I only knew Hazel because of my two friends, Jenny and Toby. Jenny, who is now deceased, moved to Pagosa Springs, Colo., and I lost touch with Toby.

In junior college in Summit, Jenny and I were close friends and dated some. I remember one weekend we went to one of the toughest dives anywhere. I think it was called The Briar Patch – or it may have been The Plum Orchard – both were on the Lincoln-Pike county line.

Jenny and I got back to Monticello in the wee hours, and her mother, Miss Edna, was still up.

“Where have you two been?” she asked.

Jenny told her

“Isn’t that place tough,” Miss Edna asked.

“Mama, it’s so tough that if you don’t have a gun, they’ll give you one,” Jenny replied.

I recall a Who’s Who contest in college, and Jenny was in the runoff for class favorite. She told me she would do the nice thing and vote for her opponent. I insisted that she vote for herself. She did and won by one vote.

After she retired from basketball, Jenny worked in Little Rock, Ark., in an interior-design shop. On her way home to Monticello we met for supper at Goldie’s. When she told me what she was doing I asked, “What do you know about interior decorating?”

“I pick out something I wouldn’t have in my own house,” she said, “and rich people will buy it.”

In her basketball playing years—there were hundreds of games and the male opponents numbered in the thousands—one game was very special. That was when Jenny and the Arkansas Travelers played in Jenny’s hometown.

Frank Smith remembers the time about 60 years ago that he played against the Arkansas Travelers in Monticello.

Frank Smith remembers it well. He was about 17, playing for the Monticello Red Devils when the high school boys took on the ladies. The gym was packed to overflowing as folks turned out to see their hometown girl on the court.

Frank, who now lives at Reganton. (Crossroads) in northern Caliborne County, grew up on a farm east of Monticello. He played point guard on his high school team.

The night they played the ladies the men had 10 players dressed out as they needed substitutes “because they were running our tails off,” Frank said. “They really played basketball. There . was no put on.”

Before the game Hazel met with the hometown boys and told them, “We’re here to play but we also entertain.” And that they did! Their actions, such as trick shots, were reminiscent of the Harlem Globe Trotters—only the Globe Trotters didn’t play women.

Frank, who was 5-feet 8-inches, was guarding one of the girls, and he was told to follow her as she dribbled her way down the court. When she stooped and ran between the legs of Jenny McGuffie, who was 6 feet 1 inch, Frank followed. It brought the house down!

At half time Hazel stood on the lane line and made 21 consecutive free shots. One of the Red Devils opposed her. “She just smoked him,” Frank remembers.

That game was over 60 years ago, but it was one Frank says he’ll never forget.

And I’ll never forget the night Hazel Walker and the Arkansas Travelers taught some smug college boys how to play basketball.


Gordon Cotton is the curator emeritus of the Old Court House Museum. He is the author of several books and is a renowned historian.

People

Josh Morgan wins the VDN Head Coach of the Year award

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VDN Head Coach of the Year Josh Morgan (photo by Ced Tillman)

Warren Central High School football coach Josh Morgan is the Vicksburg Daily News Head Coach of the Year.

Morgan played football at Warren Central in the late 1990s under his father Robert Morgan. He eventually committed to play football at Mississippi State University where he was a star safety and named to the All SEC team in 2001.

Morgan began coaching at the University of Memphis in 2004 as a graduate assistant before returning to Warren Central in 2006 to be the Vikings’ defensive coordinator.

In 2010, Morgan was named as the Vikings’ head coach after the retirement of Curtis Brewer.

Morgan struggled in his first two years as head coach. The team went 2-9 in 2010 and 1-10 in 2011. He broke through in 2012, when the Vikings their first playoff appearance under his leadership.

Morgan and the Vikings have made it to the playoffs each year since 2012, and this year marked his ninth consecutive season making it to the postseason.

The Vikings had a 9-3 record this season, and made it to the second round of the playoffs. They finished with the best record out of the four high schools in Vicksburg.

Morgan is the second coach to win the VDN Coach of the Year award after Vicksburg Junior High Coach Larry Carter Jr. won it last year.

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Business

Shandell Lewis opens an online home accessory store

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Shandell Lewis (photo courtesy S. Lewis)

Vicksburg native Shandell Lewis has started an online company where she sells various home and kitchen accessories, including luxury candles, room sprays and wax melts.

Lewis started organizing A Touch of Magnolia six months ago ad is excited about selling products that have helped her along the way. In college, she was diagnosed with severe anxiety but the aroma of certain scented candles helped bring her peace during difficult times. Now, Lewis sees A Touch of Magnolia becoming a great success as she spreads her love of aromatherapy to others.

“I want to go as far as God wants me to, and I want to put Mississippi on the map,” Lewis said.

A Touch of Magnolias is in the beginning stages of the business, and the store will have a soft opening online Nov 30.

Lewis is a 2011 graduate of Warren Central High School and graduated from Tougaloo College in 2016 with a degree in psychology. She received her master’s in school counseling from the University of Mississippi in 2018 and currently works as a high school counselor.

Lewis is grateful to her family for her success over the years.

“I come from a family of carpenters, business and home owners,” she said, “and we are all used to using our hands.”

To find out more about A Touch of Magnolia, visit the store on Facebook, Instragram or on its website.

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People

Claiborne County sheriff appointed the first female chief deputy in the county

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Standing is Sheriff Edward “Moose” Goods, who is pictured with his Chief Deputy, Christy Sykes (photo courtesy Port Gibson Sheriff's Department)

Story by Emma Crisler, editor, The Port Gibson Reveille

As 2020 arrived and both county and city boards met for the first time Jan. 6, not only were there new people sitting in every supervisors’ seat in the Matt Ross Building in Claiborne County, but changes had come to people working for the county as well.

In the sheriff’s department, not only was Sheriff Edward Goods the new sheriff but the chief deputy also had changed. The sheriff had selected Christy Sykes, the first woman chief deputy in Claiborne County.

Goods and Sykes had several connections including that they attended the Law Enforcement Academy together. They also worked together for 13 years at Alcorn State University.

As the Sheriff stated, he had observed her intelligence and noted the training courses she had passed, many of which would be useful if she were hired in his department.

“Chief Deputy Christy Sykes is the backbone of my department,” Goods said. “I’m the politician.” But most of all “I can trust her — a very important matter.

Chief Deputy Sykes

Sykes will receive her fourth degree from Alcorn State University later this month in athletic administration and compliance. Earlier, she earned degrees in criminal justice, workforce education, and an athletic management degree covering health, votec and technology.

She is the wife of Robert Sykes and the mother of three children, a daughter and two sons ranging in age from 6 to 16. Her parents are Harry and Shirley Williams (deceased).

Claiborne County Sheriff’s Department

The chief deputy said she interviewed for a job locally and put together a portfolio. She intended to keep her job at Alcorn and take on a job at the sheriff’s department, not knowing that Sheriff Goods was going to pick her as his chief deputy. As it turned out, she had also worked under former Sheriff Frank Davis when he worked as chief of police at Alcorn, and she knew some of the Claiborne County deputies from Alcorn.

Since she began her job, Sykes said they had dealt with some cases that were left over from the previous administration. There were also a few murders, petty crimes, cyberbullying and more domestic abuse that might be caused by the pandemic.

“But crime is down right now,” she said.

Sykes sees a few differences between her earlier law enforcement jobs and the one she has now.

At Alcorn, there were long hours to handle big events such as football game days, she said, but now, “I’m on call all the time.”

She added that people in law enforcement need to have their job in their hearts — some might call it complete dedication.

Fifteen deputies work full time or part time in the sheriff’s office with a “great auxillary,” she said.

During this first year, Sykes said they are trying to do things differently, especially on the technical side. They want to use computers to record everything instead of hand writing every action they take on a case.

She also mentioned bringing the 911 system up to date as an essential project.

Communication skills are also important.

“People will listen if you talk to them, and they will do what you ask of them,” she said. Keeping your ears open is also vital.

“Mrs. Sykes likes to be in the background,” Sheriff Goods said, but according to Sykes, “I can come out when needed.”

“I like to empower people, and I want to show this community that a female can do this job,” Goods said.

We wish Chief Deputy Christy Sykes much success in her important job working for Sheriff Goods and hope both will maintain their jobs keeping Claiborne County safe for a long time to come.


A version of this story appeared in The Port Gibson Reveille newspaper, and is reprinted here with permission.

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