Former Fillies to be Inducted in Women's Basketball Hall of Fame

Former Panola College basketball All-American Peggy Pope looks through a scrapbook from her playing and coaching days in the sport.
Former Panola College basketball All-American Peggy Pope looks through a scrapbook from her playing and coaching days in the sport.

Peggy Pope’s basketball career went full circle as she began playing the game in Carthage and finished up coaching the game in Carthage.

She made several stops along the way, and because of one of those stops, she will be honored Saturday by the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tennessee.

She and former teammate Rosie Walker, as well as another Panola College Filly, Debra Kay Thomas, will be inducted as former Women’s Professional Basketball League members as part of the Hall’s display “Trailblazers of the Game.”

The WBL will join eight other teams and organizations that have been recognized as “Trailblazers of the Game.” The WBL was the first professional women’s basketball league in the United States that paved the way for the WNBA, playing three seasons from 1978 to 1981.

“I feel like my basketball career has come full circle,” Pope said. “I have been able to coach at every level and play at every level. I feel it’s the final accomplishment for my career.”

Her playing career included playing on back-to-back national championship teams and earning All-American honors at Panola College. She finished her college career at Texas A&M.

She and Walker, who was a two-time All-American and also played on the national title teams, both signed with the Nebraska Wranglers, who won the WBL’s final title in 1980-81 season, beating Nancy Lieberman and the Dallas Diamonds.

Pope also served as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at both Rice and Houston before becoming the head coach at Texas Southern. She was also an assistant coach with the Detroit Shock of the WNBA.

She spent 17 years as the coach at Carthage, retiring in 2013. She also doubled up a little, coachng the WNBA Shock in the summer and the Lady Bulldogs in the winter.

“I think it’s great after 20 years that the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame is recognizing Pioneers,” Pope said. “These were women who had to play sometimes without money, without rings and without much media attention to help give birth to a women’s professional basketball league.”

Pope is in both the Panola College and Texas A&M Hall of Honors.

Walker, who has already been inducted into the Hall as an individual, went to Stephen F. Austin after her time at Panola. She made the U.S. Women’s Olympic team in 1980, but was forced to stay home because of President Jimmy Carter’s boycott of the games. She was the MVP of the WBL during the Wranglers’ championship season.

Now living in Emerson, Arkansas, she is already a member of the Stephen F. Austin (1986), Women’s Basketball (2001), Panola Athletic (2002), National Junior College (2002) Halls of Fame.

“I was a competitor,” Walker said in an interview in the Banner-News. “I worked hard on the floor, and it’s great when people and organizations keep on recognizing you for your hard work.”

Thomas, who is from Center, attended Panola before Pope and Walker. She played for the Iowa Comets in the WBL.

“We started to talk about it and what makes it so special is that of all the people who played in the WBL, three of them were from Panola,” Pope said. “All three of us started our careers at Panola and we’re all three being inducted at the same time.

“My fondest memory was our championship teams here and the large following we had. They followed us all the way to Kanas for the national tournament.”

The WBL induction by the Hall is in addition to their Class of 2018. After Saturday night’s ceremony, there will be 164 individuals in the Hall.