On Her 80th Birthday
Mentor, friend, disciplinarian, advisor, coach—all words used to describe the roles Miss Sandra Walker fulfilled in the lives of her former players and managers. A recent reunion of Carthage High School teammates became an opportunity for several women to honor and roast their former coach in girls’ basketball and celebrate her 80th birthday.
Miss Walker coached, sponsored the pep squad and cheerleaders, and taught physical education at CHS. During her 18-year tenure from 1960 to 1978, she established a tradition of winning carried over into life experiences for many of her players. “I had the opportunity and great honor to work with, stand beside and behind you as you represented Carthage High School. You were and still are the best there is,” Miss Walker told her former players.
Her childhood was spent on a Central Texas farm where she loved horses and competed in local rodeos in barrel racing. Miss Walker was also a guard on the 1954 Texas state championship team from Penelope High School. Upon graduation from North Texas State University, Miss Walker signed a contract, mailed to her by CISD Superintendent Q. M. Martin, to coach CHS girls’ basketball. She had never even visited Carthage. Her intention was to coach two years and then move on. She is still in Carthage today, retired and keeping up with her ex-ball players and their families. Miss Walker said, “Most of life’s lessons I have learned on or around a basketball court.” She encouraged her players: “Always want your best to be better!”
During their summers, several of her players worked at Camp Tres Rios near Glen Rose, where she was camp director. Liz East went both as a camper and as a counselor. Miss Walker has continued to love camping, traveling around the country with friends.
Three of her former players returned to CISD to coach with Miss Walker and helped build the program. They were Nancy Williams Langford, Sharon Langley Rivard, and Judy Sanford Emberton. Other players chose to become teachers. Those who were present at the reunion were Toni Trimble Biggs, Jane Adams Hoffpauir, Rose Helen Harrigan Reid, Denise Smith Todd, Debbie East LaGrone, Teresa Kyle Beasley, and Janet Conway.
“Miss Walker was very influential in seeing that I finished high school and continued my education at Panola College. I owe her more than I can express,” said former manager Wanda Thompson Gaines. Peggy Pope, who was being inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame the day of the reunion, sent this message: “Ms. Walker, you were the first to see in me what I didn’t see in myself. You gave me opportunity during a time in history when racial diversity was in its infancy. I want you to know that your belief in my abilities and the opportunity you gave me to develop those abilities influenced the rest of my life.”
Miss Walker shared her favorite literary pieces with her former players: “To An Old Camper” by Mary S. Edgar and “The Battle of Life” by Theodore Roosevelt.
Peggie Pelham Snow was a member of the 1960-61 team. She has the distinct honor of having been on the court for Miss Walker’s first game as a coach, also present at the last game Miss Walker coached at Panola College.
Miss Walker was inducted into the CHS Hall of Honor for her years as a CHS coach. Her plaque is joined there by those of some of her players: Judy Sanford Emberton, Charlotte Shell Soape, Suzy Shell Trimble, Peggy Pope, Linda Sue Brooks, Mildred Hodge Griffith, and Cynthia Jennings Carter. Miss Walker is also an active member of the CHS Alumni Association Executive Committee even though she is not officially an alumna. She claims that is the fact that she bleeds Carthage Bulldog red that allows her to be a member.
During her coaching career, girls’ basketball was a half-court game, and players were either guards or forwards. Many larger high schools had not adopted girls’ basketball in her early years as a coach, so the CHS team traveled and played at small schools. Players and managers shared memories of those long bus trips, especially the quiet trips home after a defeat, and the after-game chicken fried steak meals. As girls’ basketball grew as a high school sport, Miss Walker’s teams met the challenge and advanced to the state tournament four times: 1968, 1969, 1971 and 1978. Players shared their memories of games, road trips, sharing hotel rooms with teammates, and one-on-one counseling sessions with Miss Walker.
One by one, the players and managers went to the microphone to share their memories. Ann Woods Lambright recalled the rivalry between Carthage and Center, and the year the Carthage girls received a letter from the Center team members bragging about how they planned to beat Carthage in an upcoming game. “Years later, we found out Miss Walker wrote that letter,” Ann said. The room erupted in laughter. Miss Walker’s legacy lives on with her players as they all remembered the life lessons she shared over the years with her players and friends.
In life, just as in your sport, it is always too soon to quit.
Winning isn’t everything, but the will to win is everything.
Our greatest glory consists not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall. (Oliver Goldsmith)
To know the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. In life, the happiness of success and the pain or disappointment of failure.
Courage is being capable of doing your job when you are half scared to death or overwhelmed by the task at hand.
With courage, faith, and conviction, you are never a loser.
Strive always to be a humble winner and a graceful loser.
No risks means no rewards. There are few rewards without putting yourself at risk of failure.
Always give your best. This is in your sport, on the job, or in life. “Always want your best to be better.”
If you think you can, you can. If you think you can’t, you can’t. Believe and Achieve!