Before Misty Allen and 11 other girls at Talladega County (Ala.) Central High raised money for uniforms for a basketball team two years ago, they hardly knew a dribble from a dunk. "At our first practice, girls were catching the ball and running with it," says former TCC coach Bobby Hayes. "Since then, their skill level, on a scale of 10, has gone from zero to eight. It's been something to see."
The Lady Tigers' first-season follies—they went 0-12—didn't surprise many Talladega County residents. After all, these girls had never had an opportunity to play organized sports. TCC, a rural, predominantly black school with fewer than 250 students, had not fielded a girls' team in any sport for five years. The boys, however, had had football, basketball and baseball teams for as long as anyone could remember.
The team's first season was very nearly its last. In October 1991 principal John Stamps announced that the girls' basketball team would be eliminated. The state had yanked some funds, says assistant superintendent Jimmy Hayes, a cousin of the former coach, and "we had to do some whacking where whacking can take place." No boys' sport was touched.
Allen, a 5'7" senior forward, was furious. Although her five-point average hardly had college recruiters salivating, basketball had become part of her identity. It had taught her teamwork and—most gratifying to teachers—it had taught her to control her temper. "I was improving as a person," she says. Shortly after Stamps's bombshell, a friend of Allen's contacted the Women's Sports Foundation in New York City to see what could be done about saving the team. The foundation called Tim Stoner, a lawyer for the Women's Basketball Coaches Association, who in turn called Stamps, explained the principles of Title IX and said he might visit TCC. In November, Stamps reinstated girls' basketball and promised to launch a girls' softball team, which in fact he did. But the girls' basketball team's troubles weren't over.
Three games into the 1991-92 basketball season, TCC won for the first time, whipping Woodland High by 15 points. "It felt so good, it was shocking," says Allen. What didn't feel so good was a series of events that seemed to suggest that the school had a dismissive attitude toward the team. First, Allen had to sit out a second victory over Woodland, a one-point squeaker in the area tournament in late February, because school officials had misplaced her birth certificate, which was needed to certify her eligibility. Second, because of a blunder on the part of Stamps, the team failed to show up for a sub-state-tournament game against Ragland High and had to forfeit the contest. (The game had been scheduled for March 2 in the TCC gym, and Stamps, the tournament director, had mistakenly announced that it was to be played March 3.) And finally, the school notified Coach Hayes, who was also a history teacher at TCC, that his contract would not be renewed for the current school year. "I doubt I would have lost my job if it wasn't for basketball," Hayes says.
The forfeit of the Ragland game earned the team a $500 fine. Stamps asked the team to help raise the money, putting a further pinch on the girls, who were already trying to come up with funds to help pay for their area-tournament championship banner. It will hang in the gym next to many other banners already won by the TCC boys.