The one and only
PPHS’s champions photo after defeating Washington High in the Class B State Championship game. Pictured are (back row, l to r) Senior, Linda Fontenot; Junior, Kathy West; Jr., Cathy Gaudet; Sr., Diana Glaze; Jr., Fern Vidrine; Coach Rodney Ferris (front, l to r) Sr., Judy Ardoin; Jr., Barbara Lantier; Sr., the late Cherry Guillory; Sr., Irmus Fontenot, Sr.; and Jr., the late Rhonda McDaniel. Not pictured: Jo Anna Elliott, Jr. The Pantherettes finished their title season with a record of 45-2. (Gazette archive photo)
By: ELIZABETH WEST
PINE PRAIRIE – To this day, there has only been one Evangeline Parish High School basketball team that has had the honor of calling themselves state champions.
A group of 11 Pine Prairie girls, coached by Rodney Ferris, nearly 51-years ago accomplished a goal that most high school athletes only ever dream about. Girl’s basketball was played a little different at the time, but nevertheless, the players’ goal remained the same.
Irmus Fontenot West, who was a senior on the team, remembered, “We had six players on the court at a time. Three on one end playing defense and three on the other end of the court playing offense. You couldn’t cross half court, or your team would lose the ball.”
Judy Ardoin Torres, who was also a senior, then added, “But, the good thing about our team was that we all had the ability to play different positions, so it was nothing for Coach Ferris to put an offensive player on the defensive side.”
Eight of the nine living members from PPHS’s 1965 women’s basketball team reunited for the first time recently since their days of hardwood glory. One by one, each team member arrived at the very location where their love for the game began, the school’s gymnasium, to re-live that championship season.
As each lady entered the Leslie Gaudet Gym, they tightly hugged their former teammates before making their way to the recently repaired state championship trophy that their hard work and dedication had earned them over 50 years ago.
Once the reminiscing began, it became clear that while it was their love for the game that helped carry this team to a Class B title, what meant more to them than the shiny brass trophy was the love and support from their coaches, friends, and families. That bond with the community, that is known for its basketball, started from the first game that season and continued to grow all the way until the final buzzer sounded at Louisiana College’s H.O. West Gym.
“You rarely saw crowds following girl’s sports back then. People usually only followed the boys, but as the season continued and we kept winning, more and more people started following us,” Fern Vidrine Fontenot, who was unable to attend the reunion, said in a phone interview. “Our parents were always there, but now the entire community was supporting us. It was so awesome, because that was just something you never saw.”
Kathy West Paul, who was a junior on the team, remembered the fans that followed the team to the finals like it was yesterday. “I can remember counting all of the cars before we left Pine Prairie. We had a 90-car caravan that followed us to the state tournament.”
Cathy Gaudet Johnson, who’s father is Louisiana Sports Hall of Famer Coach Leslie Gaudet, added, “Pine Prairie was a small community, so you can imagine there was no one left in town.”
To put this more into perspective, Barbara Lantier Veillon said, “If a fire would have started, the whole town would have gone up in flames.”
When it came to discussing how their dream became a reality, all of the accolades were given to their late head coach.
“One thing that Coach Ferris did was make us practice long hours in the summer. We practiced all of the time,” said Paul. “He would make us practice early in the morning during August because it was so hot in the gym, and there was no air conditioning then.”
Cathy also remembered how hard Ferris pushed his team to become the best, “I always thought I was going to throw up at those practices.”
The tough practices, though, are what ultimately made Ferris’ players champions.
Diana Glaze said, “The year that we won, we played all over the state. Coach Ferris would enter us in tournaments playing against bigger schools and better teams. We were so terrified, but that’s how he made us better players.”
In their season opener, Ferris’ Pantherettes fell to Washington High by a mere three points, which was one of the only two losses the team suffered that season.
Veillon said, “Coach was furious when we lost our first game to Washington High. He said, “Y’all are not in shape.””
Jo Anna Elliott Johnson, who was a junior on the team, added, “I promise he got us in to shape after that.”
Veillon then continued, “That was one of the only teams to beat us that year. Then, we turned around and beat them in district and then in the finals. Talk about pressure when we met up with them again in the finals.”
The pressure wasn’t too much for these ladies to handle, though. Pine Prairie defeated Washington 38-32 in the state championship game that year.
They were proud to become the first basketball state champions in the parish, but what made this group of ladies even more proud was the fact that they had beaten every other team that won state that year throughout the season.
Cathy said, “Winning was a team effort. One person doesn’t win or lose games. We were a team.”
For Glaze, the most special thing about winning came from a rare moment that she experienced with her dad Ed Glaze, who was the principal at PPHS at the time.
Glaze said, “My dad almost went out of his way to ignore me at school, because he didn’t want people to think he treated me differently than other students. But, when we came back to school after winning, my dad came over the intercom and called me and Linda (Nabors) to his office.”
Nabors then said, “Oh yes, I remember. We were worried that we were going to be in trouble.”
Glaze then continued, “When we got to his office, he closed the door, and then grabbed each of us and gave us a big kiss on the cheek and told us we had made All-District. That was such a special moment that I was able to share with my dad.”
For West the feeling of winning state was “indescribable.”
Torres explained why that was, “Until the very end, it was inconceivable to think that we could be state champions, because we didn’t know anyone who was. We never really knew how good we actually were until that day.”
Torres added. “We had beaten good teams before, but coach never let us have a big head. He wanted to keep us focused so that we could make it happen, and we did.”