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More than a coach

Posted on Wednesday, March 20, 2024 at 8:00 am

Bobby Locke and the development of the ‘74 Eaglettes


Editor’s note: This is the last of a three-part series on the 1974 Shelbyville Central High School Girls Basketball TSSAA Class L State Championship team.

Honored guests at the anniversary celebration were head coach Bobby Locke and assistant coach Doug Langston. From left, front row, are Sherri Beachboard Rambo, Langston, Locke, and Jan Zitney Bubb. Back row, from left, are Lisa White Lawson, Susie Galland, Bryce Rippy, Deborah Lankford Jones, Martha Williams, Mary Jo Cartwright and Janis Darnell.

Coaches usually take on the role of father figure because they are teaching more than just how to play a game.

Such was the case of Bobby Locke. A winner of TSSAA Class L State Championships in both 1964 and 1974, Locke not only knew how to coach the game of basketball, but like legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, he also instilled life lessons into his players.

Jan (Bubb) Zitney still remembers one of those lessons today from her time as a Golden Eagletette.

“Coach Locke taught us to carry ourselves with class, character and poise,” Jan said. “Coach Locke was a good man and Christian man. That is where I learned ‘The Lord’s Prayer.’

“I was not trained in the church. Coach Locke had us recite it before every single game.”

Locke laid the groundwork, along with Billie Crowell, for Jan’s spiritual life.

“I am a woman of faith,” Jan said. “The good Lord knew exactly what he was doing.”

Cindy (Keane) Calahan has strong memories of Locke’s game preparation through prayer.

“We spent time in prayer,” Cindy said.  “We knew we could do it. I remember us praying about it. He reinforced that. He was very positive coach.”

Cindy also called Locke a father figure for the team.

“I loved Coach Locke,” Cindy said. “He was awesome. He was like a father figure. We had a curfew. We knew when we could go out.

“He was strict but only if we deserved it. You wanted to keep him happy.”

We spent time in prayer. We knew we could do it. He reinforced that. A very positive coach. I remember us praying about it.”

Mary Jo Cartwright credits Locke with helping give her the confidence to succeed in her career in human resources with major companies.

“Coach Locke taught me so much that helped me in my career,” Mary Jo said. “For me personally, I didn’t want to let Coach Locke down. We wanted it for him as much as we wanted it for us.”

In addition to being talented basketball players, the team was smart in the classroom as well. Their confidence in both areas served all of them well.

“We believed in each other,” Mary Jo said. “We were a close group.

“We believed in our coaches. Coach Locke taught me so much I learned in my career.  For me personally, you didn’t want to let Coach Locke down. We wanted it for him as much as we wanted it for us.”

Jan still has a copy of an inspirational piece called “Prepare Yourself” that she said Locke read to them often, especially as a pregame motivational tool.

In part it read, “I must play this game to the utmost of my ability, helping my teammates at all times. I must forget me and play for us. I can be a small part of the best if I give my all. I must realize this team can be no stronger than the effort I put forth.”

Janis (Cannon) Darnell’s memories of Locke are similar to most of the players.

“I thought he was a good coach,” Janis said. “I respected him. He was like a second father to me. He was a good mix.

“I knew if I didn’t behave I would get in trouble. If he ever had a problem with anyone on the team I never knew it.  He was fair.”

Guard Reita (Barrett) Naron credited Locke for helping to mold his players into a team.

“He was not an in-your-face-coach unless you deserved it,” Reita said. “I have played a lot of sports throughout my life, and still do, but in that state championship it was all about the team. He believed in each one of us.

“What I learned from Coach Locke is good and bad things are going to happen. He taught us to take the losses like the wins. You just had to pick yourself up and move on.”

Some members of the 1974 Shelbyville Central High Class L State Champion Girls Basketball team gathered in 2014, their 40th anniversary, to remember the season together. From left are Martha Williams, Sherri Beachboard Rambo, Deborah Lankford Jones, Jan Zitney Bubb, Lisa White Lawson and Mary Jo Cartwright

Tough when needed

Locke was known for his calm demeanor, but when things weren’t going the way he thought they should on the basketball court, he left no doubt he was displeased.

Forward Mary Jo Cartwright remembered an incident that occurred her sophomore season the year before winning the 1974 championship.

“We were playing at Franklin and we had stunk up the gym,” Cartwright said. “At halftime Coach Locke came in. I happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

“I was sitting next to the door. He came in and kicked the garbage can and it flying across the dressing room. He caught his watch band in the door and the watch ended up in my lap.”

It was a shock for the players to see such an outburst.

“Coach Locke was such a class man…a gentleman,” Cartwright said. “He was laid back.

“But he chewed us out that game. He told us we were better than what we were showing. We were not playing as a team at that point. From then on we became a team and got better.”

Jan recalls being the target of his wrath for something she did during a practice session.

“He was a gentle coach, but when he needed it he had an edge,” Jan said. “He was developing Deborah during her sophomore year. She is supposed to come out and set a pick for me. I was to brush by her and she was supposed to roll to the basket.

“She didn’t roll quickly enough for me. I asked, ‘Deborah, are you going to roll today or tomorrow?’ Coach Locke looked at me and told me to hit the track. He told me he as the coach, not me and that he ran the practice.”

Teaching the game

His ability to develop players may have been one of his strongest points. Deborah (Jones) Lankford is a prime example. Even though she was 5-foot-11 she had never played in an organized basketball game when she walked on the court as a freshman.

“Coach Locke told me I made the freshmen team, but he didn’t know what I was going to do yet. He taught me from the ground up how to play basketball.

“I had to learn everything from scratch. That is why I was always jumping rope after practice and shooting hook shots after practice. I was like a rookie quarterback in football. I had to learn the hard way, and I learned the hard way.”

Janis, who had played basketball at the old Wheel School, had to change her position in high school.

“Coach Locke tried me on offense, but I was not an offensive player,” Janis said. “I was not a great ball handler.

“I was quick but I wasn’t the greatest player in the world. I just always tried to get better. He knew I wanted to play so bad so I became a guard.”

It was good move for Janis. With Carol “Tree” Lane under the basket Janis and Cindy (Keane) Calahan were a formidable defensive backcourt. Assistant coach Doug Langston, who also was head football coach, worked primarily with the guards.

“Cindy and I thought alike. We talked a lot on the court. Cindy and I just meshed.”

All for the team

The 1974 team was labeled an underdog for most of the season, especially in the postseason tournaments. They won trophies. They received accolades. And they were the TSAAA Class L State Champion.

But more than that they were truly a team from players to managers. Locke and Langston helped influence that sense of togetherness.

“My biggest memory is what a good group we had,” Janis said. “We all kind of just meshed. Really and truly we were just all good together. Don’t remember a single problem on the team. It was fun.”

Cindy pointed out it was a great everyone got along so well since they spent so much time together.

“We loved each other,” Cindy said. “We spent most of our time practicing or playing. We saw each other all the time.

“We were very close. It just worked out.”

Big welcome

When the Golden Eaglettes returned from Jackson hundreds of well-wishers were there to greet them and there was parade honoring them. But it was more than just a greeting.

The Golden Eaglettes enjoyed one final bonding experience as the community contributed money for the players to enjoy a trip to Florida with stops at Daytona Beach and Disneyworld.

“We had a big time in Florida,” Janis said. “We tried to stay out of trouble. It was my first time in Florida.

It was such an honor for the town to think that much about us and send us. They had to do  a  lot of  hard work  to get that together. “

Clearing it up

Through the shouts of joy in the dressing room after the girls beat McNairy County for the title, local sports editor Bo Melson, heard shouts of “no more roast beef” as loud as those proclaiming the team was No.1.

That had been the staple of pregame meals during the state tournament. The players need not have wondered about their menu following the title game. Not one, but two steak dinners had been arranged.

“It was our meal every night,” Jan said. “Coach Locke wanted us to have enough protein. We ate a lot of roast beef during the tournament.”

Research has shown eye witness testimony in court is often unreliable. Such is true when recalling the final crucial moments for the title came with McNairy County.

Using several sources, including a video, all three guards on the court at the time made key contributions in the final seconds.

With Shelbyville trailing by three points Reita (Barrett) Naron grabbed a rebound and Shelbyville scored.

Then tournament MVP Marilyn Gilchrist dribbled the ball toward the basket and Janis was able to get a hand on it and knock it away. Janis dived on the floor to grab it and tied up with a McNairy County player resulting in a jump ball.

Cindy was guarding a player at the basket and was between the player and the goal. Janis tipped the ball that way and Cindy came out with it and threw it to Janis. She was fouled on the play allowing Jan to hit the two free throws to ice the win.

Regardless of the play-by-play the scoreboard showed a Shelbyville win, something most people thought was improbable until the final buzzer.

“We gelled at the right time,” Jan said. “We didn’t come in like barnstormers. It wasn’t like we were undefeated. We couldn’t get full of ourselves. It took a team effort for us to win.

“At the time I just remember being happy it was over. Years later, I look back and realize we were so young. We didn’t especially fully appreciate what we had done. But looking back and remembering you appreciated you were part of something special. Not everyone gets to be part of something like that.”