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Champions, challenges, change move city

By Doug Hensley
for the Avalanche-Journal

The feel-good story of the past 25 years was supplied by a dozen young women and a visionary head coach with a common dream that they made reality.

The 1992-93 Texas Tech Lady Raiders were as magical as they were majestic, and they captivated the South Plains with an inspired run through the NCAA Tournament that culminated in the school’s first national championship in athletics.

Marsha Sharp

"My first thought was how sweet this is," Lady Raider head coach Marsha Sharp said after the nets were cut down following her team’s 84-82 triumph against Ohio State on April 4, 1993, in Atlanta. "It’s something, how do you describe it? It’s one of those things you can’t describe. I’m still numb."

Numbing would have been a great way to summarize the play of Tech all-American Sheryl Swoopes. The 22-year-old Brownfield native amazed and astonished during the team’s 19-game winning streak to end the season.

Swoopes scored 47 points in the championship game and was a unanimous choice as Final Four most valuable player. Overall, the national player of the year scored 177 points in five tournament games, shattering the previous mark by 43 en route to setting 10 NCAA Tournament, Final Four or national championship records.

"I definitely didn’t feel that every shot would fall," Swoopes said after hitting 16 of 24 field goals and 11 of 11 free throws, "but sometimes I put it in my mind that I can’t miss."

The game set the stage for the next day in Lubbock, when the team returned to a well-deserved champion’s welcome. More than 40,000 fans turned out to honor the team at Jones Stadium.

"We kicked butt and took names and brought the national championship back to you guys," Swoopes said to the delight of the delirious mass.

The victory was a defining moment for the Lady Raider program, which in its infancy, played before crowds numbering fewer than 100 before Sharp took over prior to the 1981-82 season. The Tulia native slowly and steadily built a dynasty from the overflowing talent pools of the South Plains.

Suddenly, Tech had its most consistent nationally competitive program as the Lady Raiders were a regular NCAA tourney participant during Sharp’s tenure, which ended following the 2005-06 season.

The championship was a high point among a number of notable stories involving Tech.

The university, experiencing continuous growth as well as steady financial challenges, named its first chancellor in 1996, when former longtime state Sen. John Montford was tapped to replace outgoing President Robert Lawless. The new structure was designed for the chancellor to take on the bulk of the fundraising chores with presidents of the university and the medical school handling day-to-day demands.

Within a week of taking office, Montford announced a $10 million gift from United Supermarkets that was earmarked for a new on-campus basketball facility, to be named United Spirit Arena.

He also spearheaded the Horizon Campaign, Tech’s most ambitious fundraising drive ever. Before it was over, the school had secured more than $500 million. Montford announced his decision to step down as chancellor in 2001 and was replaced by David Smith, the predecessor to Kent Hance, the current chancellor.

The new 15,000-seat basketball arena, built at a cost of $62 million, was christened Nov. 19, 1999, with the Tech men’s team playing host to Indiana University and its legendary coach, Bob Knight.

Knight’s team won that game 68-60, and, in one of those twists of fate too good for fiction, the hall of fame coach was tapped to replace James Dickey as Red Raider basketball coach in March 2001. Knight, who suddenly found his new coaching address on Indiana Avenue, was introduced during a rowdy news conference at the arena featuring a handful of media and thousands of rabid Raider fans.

Knight led the team to a couple of NCAA tournament berths and became the all-time leader in men’s Division I coaching victories on Jan. 1, 2007, when he recorded win No. 880. He reached the 900-win plateau while continuing to instill a team-first work ethic in his players. Knight retired on Feb. 4, 2008.

Other legends were at work, as well. Delbert McDougal, a local developer, began Overton Park, the largest privately funded revitalization project in the country, when he began redeveloping 325 acres in the North Overton neighborhood.

"North Overton is vital to the completion of the downtown corridor," McDougal said during the early stages of the project.

The original piece of the project, the "Centre," called for acquiring all property in an area bounded by Avenue X, Main Street, Avenue R and Fifth Street. The four-story "Centre" would include a ground floor of large stores and small shops below three floors of apartment units.

In the eight years since, McDougal transformed an area marked by crime and absentee landowners into a housing mecca for Tech’s rapidly growing student population. The university now boasts a student body of 28,000 students with plans on the drawing board to accommodate 10,000 more during the next 15 years.

While Lubbock changed for the better in some ways, other changes left the city with a heavy heart.

More than 50 years of partnership came to an end with inactivation ceremonies at Reese Air Force Base on Sept. 30, 1997. "Although the wing and base are inactivating, the spirit of both will remain a part of the Air Force forever," Maj. Gen. Kurt B. Anderson said during the ceremony. "Thank you on behalf of the entire Air Force."

The former Lubbock Army Air Field trained more than 7,000 pilots during World War II and 25,350 when the last class graduated. The base became a victim of Pentagon downsizing in 1995 and was targeted for closure.

As it turned out, though, it was another beginning for Lubbock. After the Lubbock-Reese Redevelopment Authority assumed responsibility for the property, it went about the business of converting it into an industrial park. Soon, Reese Center was born, and the facility is host to a number of companies and enterprises engaged in cutting-edge technology.

Another ending was equally significant for Lubbock in 1991, when U.S. District Judge Halbert O. Woodward accepted a reorganization plan from the Lubbock Independent School District, releasing the LISD from judicial supervision. The plan called for reduced forced busing, converting Dunbar to a junior high and making Matthews an adult education center.

After Woodward denied a request from five LISD residents asking for the plan to be rejected, Woodward dissolved all injunctions and dismissed the case, which had been under his purview since August 1970, when Lubbock was found to be operating a segregated school system. In all, the case cost the school district roughly $6 million in busing costs and legal fees.

The cost was even higher for NASA as tragedy struck the nation’s space program twice in less than 20 years with the second strike having local impact. Some 17 years after the Challenger space shuttle exploded shortly after beginning a mission, another space shuttle exploded while re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere near the end of a mission.

On Feb. 1, 2003, space shuttle Columbia, carrying pilot Willie McCool, a Coronado graduate, and shuttle Cmdr. Rick Husband, a Tech graduate from Amarillo, disintegrated during the final 16 minutes of a 16-day mission. The search for the cause of the tragedy began immediately and focused on protective thermal tiles on the left wing from a flying piece of debris during the mission’s Jan. 16 liftoff, according to news accounts.

In all, seven astronauts perished. The two with local connections had carried mementos of their time in Lubbock into space. McCool, a 1979 graduate of Coronado, brought a Mustang spirit towel aboard the Columbia, and Husband, who graduated from Tech in 1980, took a CD of the university’s choir with him.

The two have been remembered by their respective cities. Lubbock sculptor Eddie Dixon created a statue of McCool, which was dedicated in 2005 and can be found in Henry Huneke Park in southwest Lubbock. McCool’s high school also named its track in the fallen astronaut’s honor.

Likewise, Amarillo unveiled a statue of Husband at its airport, which was renamed Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport.

The two are gone, but not forgotten, and the same should be said as Lubbock’s centennial approaches. The memories are many. Some are good. Some are not so good. Regardless, none should be forgotten.

Happy 100th birthday, Lubbock.

The A-J Remembers The Most Important People in Lubbock's History

SPECIAL SECTIONS: 1909-1933 / 1934-1958 / 1959-1983 / 1984-PRESENT | PRINT VERSION