Dear Lady Panthers....
You are awesome and wonderful.
This is not my story, but you have made Norfork, Arkansas, proud-proud. So, I’m telling bits and pieces of your story, as seen through the eyes of some of your fans.
Quite a few of us wanted to cheer for you as you left on the bus to Hot Springs to play for the state championship: Basketball State Finals - 1A Girls, Norfork vs Rural Special. It was a short but great parade. Fun. There were sirens, a firetruck, police cars, and the Lady Panthers! I stood along the street with my husband, our niece, the mayor of Norfork, and others watching the parade.
As we were leaving, we drove back through Norfork, and there was a line of fans dressed in red. They stood out like poppies. Among them were Doyle and Willa Cope (who drove from Mountain Home), Lynn and Elsie Rand, and their daughter Lana Colley. I hopped out of the car to have a photo made with my friends and fellow fans of the Lady Panthers. I wanted to join these happy people. Joy was abundant on each of their faces. Of course I wanted to be with them!
Doyle Cope and Lana Colley know basketball. They grew up in Norfork, and they fervently follow you. They never miss your games—unless there's a pandemic! Both of them played basketball in the gymnasium of the old Horace Mann School, which now houses the youth center in Norfork. So did Lana's dad, Lynn.
When I called the Cope household to interview Doyle, Willa said, “Later. He’s eating lunch, and the Razorbacks are playing.” His loyalties made me smile. Doyle enjoys a good game. Now, red flows through his veins for the the Arkansas Razorbacks and the Norfork Panthers. Willa said, “It’s fantastic for the Lady Panthers to make it this far. We have a young bunch coming up, too. There are three freshmen on this team." Freshmen going to the state finals? Yes, that can happen if you're in a 1-A school. The freshmen can play alongside sophomores, juniors, seniors.
At that moment in time, we did not know how you Lady Panthers would do at the state finals. We only knew that you were going. It’s a great achievement to make it to the finals. Being at the parade, waving and yelling, was our way of letting you know we were so proud of you.
Later, Doyle said, “This was a 'once in a lifetime event.’ Three freshmen on the team, two of them starting. It’s exciting! It’s wonderful.”
In addition to the sweetness of winning games, you Lady Panthers were witnesses to other losses. One was the loss of your principal Bobby Hulse, fighting and losing the battle with Covid-19 this year. He’d been Norfork’s principal for 40 years, and there was nothing typical about him. Taking care of Norfork school children was a family affair, as I hear it. If he saw that someone needed shoes, he told his wife, and that child got shoes. This compassionate man and wife were a team. I keep hearing the stories from this one, that one. The children impacted him, he impacted them. He made a difference in lives. You, Lady Panthers, helped make him proud, too. Thank you for your passion to win for Bobby Hulse and for one of your teammate’s dad. You have heart.
Lana Colley was a four-year letterman and starter for the Lady Panthers basketball team in the late 70s. She said, “Oh, the Lady Panthers did an awesome job! Just awesome. We managed to get good footing several years ago. We’ve been to state before, but never have we been in the final two. That’s what made this different. We made history! And it could have gone either way. Much happened in the final minute. The final score was 48 to 40.”
“Lana, how did you see any of the games this year? My understanding is that there was limited seating because of the pandemic.”
“I counted on live streaming and Facebook to help me see the games. The tickets were for parents and family members, so electronics became my friend.”
“You lettered four years in high school. What helped this team win 2nd place?”
“They had the passion to play, and they played as a team. They did not play as individuals. They are a team. Also, they've had two great coaches. This is Coach Will Stewart’s second year. We are proud to have him working with our Lady Panthers.”
“Lynn Rand, your dad, played at Norfork, too. What was it like for you, having him as a fan when you played?”
“Oh, he’d stay right on the sidelines, usually telling me what I was doing wrong. Mom stayed in the stands. They were both supportive and great fans. It’s about the love of the game. We all love the game.”
Lady Panthers, I hope you can hear the love from your fans. They love you, the game, and Norfork.
Play on and God bless,
P.S. My husband and I attended Monticello High School, a small school in southeast Arkansas. We, too, loved our basketball games!
The Lady Panthers logo.