Visitation will be held at Porter Funeral Home located at 302 West Park Street in Louisville from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thursday, May 21, with the funeral service beginning at 2 p.m. at the same location.
“When people think of East Central Community College, many immediately think of Lucille Wood,” said ECCC President Dr. Billy Stewart. “She was a remarkable representative of our college and truly embodied the spirit and excellence that is East Central. She made a tremendous impact on women’s athletics in Mississippi’s community colleges and touched thousands of students’ as well as athletes’ lives during her more than five decades of service to our college and she will be greatly missed.”
Wood, who also served as chairman of the social science, business and education division at ECCC, is recognized as a pioneer in Mississippi community college women’s athletics, and until her retirement in 2011 was the longest-tenured faculty member among the Mississippi community college ranks.
She served three years as an activity and recreation instructor at Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Wesson, before being hired by then-East Central Community College president Arno Vincent in 1956.
Wood was honored for her classroom teaching on various occasions, having been selected Outstanding Academic Instructor by the ECCC Alumni Association; HEADWAE (Higher Education Appreciation Day: Working Toward Academic Excellence) Instructor of the Year, an honored conferred by the Mississippi Legislature; and a Lamplighter honoree, which each year recognizes outstanding community college educators.
Throughout her five decades at East Central, Wood also served as cheerleader sponsor, director of intramurals, organized and supervised a college-wide talent show, supervised the May Day programs, and initiated halftime programs at basketball games, where her physical education classes demonstrated their class activities such as ribbon dancing, tinseling (rhythmic jumping between poles) and jump rope exercises.
Wood was also instrumental in organizing the first Alumni Memorial Awards, which were the beginning of the current Awards Day program held each spring to recognize outstanding students. She also instituted the singing of the Alma Mater at the conclusion of the program.
In addition to her outstanding service as a faculty member, Wood also served twice as president of the Alumni Association, and during her second term was responsible for instituting the Alumnus of the Year Award.
She spearheaded the effort to restore Sullivan Park, an area adjacent to Newsome Hall dormitory and named in honor of Mrs. Janie Huff Sullivan, one of Wood’s teachers at then East Central Junior College.
She also created and organized the college’s Memorabilia Room, which was completed in 2005. Located in Burton Library, the room houses various items of historical significance to East Central and its alumni. Wood, along with former librarians Gloria Johnson and Gail Wood, led efforts for the creation and completion of the special area.
She helped raise funds and/or donated funds for trophy cases to house Athletic Hall of Fame inductee plaques, photos and frames for All-State athletes, flags for Burton Library and banners for her women’s basketball championship teams.
She was instrumental in the collection of athletic memorabilia that is housed in the trophy cases and on the walls in the college gym, having researched information on former All-State and All-American players from the years 1928 to 1974. Wood, with the assistance of former librarian Ann Burkes and her husband, the late Roger Burkes, collected information and photographs on past players and championship teams.
Wood was also called on to speak at various programs throughout her tenure at ECCC, including the college’s 75th anniversary in 2003. She was also a featured speaker at the dedication of Burton Library and the Walter Arno Vincent Administration Building.
She was a 2003 Mississippi Women’s Conference Power of One honoree and in 2004 was selected as an “Ageless Hero” state award winner in the Love of Learning category by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Mississippi. She was also the recipient of the Delta Kappa Gamma Red Rose award and an honorary member of Theta Xi Chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, the international honor society for the two-year college.
But, perhaps Lucille Wood was best recognized for her accomplishments in and contributions to women’s athletics in Mississippi’s junior colleges.
After playing basketball at Louisville High School and ECJC, Wood volunteered to coach women’s basketball during her years at Co-Lin, but the job was given to someone else.
Being turned down for the coaching job might have been the best thing to happen for women’s athletics, as it laid the foundation for Wood’s ideas concerning opportunities for girls and women in sports and coaching.
“Many people probably do not know that from 1954 until 1975, the Mississippi Junior College Athletic Association (MJCAA) did not recognize women’s basketball as a sport. My second year at East Central (1957), a group of girls, led by (the late) Sue Gunter (longtime women’s basketball coach at Louisiana State University and NCAA Hall of Fame inductee), wanted to play competitive basketball,” Wood said during an interview prior to her retirement.
“Mr. Vincent gave approval for us to play and we scheduled about 10 games. Sue, who later excelled as a senior college player and coach, always gave credit to East Central for ‘jump-starting’ her career. I have to give credit to Mr. Vincent for allowing all those girls who were members of our ‘Club Teams’ to follow their dreams and for allowing me to follow my dream of being a coach,” Wood said.
Wood led those “Club Teams” through the 1974-75 season, capturing state titles in 1970 and 1973. Following the MJCAA’s recognition of women’s basketball as an official sport in 1975-76, Wood’s teams won state titles in 1976 and 1979.
The 1973 championship was won with a basketball borrowed from Neshoba Central High School because ECCC didn’t have an official basketball for women at that time.
During this period, Wood also helped bring about the Title IX ruling, which provides equal opportunities for women. Through her efforts, the foundation for women’s basketball was laid in 1975, and a number of scholarships were awarded to female athletes.
That same year, she was elected the first president of the Women’s Basketball Association of Mississippi. She was also among the first coaches selected to lead a Mississippi junior college All-Star team. She was honored as Mississippi Association of Coaches 1978-79 “Coach of the Year” and was also recognized that same year in the Top 20 list of National Junior College “Coaches of the Year.”
In addition to her accolades as a basketball coach, Wood also led the ECJC volleyball “Club Team” to the 1970 state title, and from 1957 to 1976 she coached men and women’s tennis teams. Five of her tennis players won state championships.
After retiring from coaching in 1986, Wood continued her interest in women’s athletics by serving in various capacities. She completed a 10-year tenure as Region 23 Director of Women’s Athletics and was presented the National Junior College Athletic Association Service Award in 1990.
She was inducted into the ECCC Athletic Hall of Fame in 1986 and in 1988 was honored by having the ECCC physical education building (Brackeen-Wood Physical Education Building) named for her and All-American basketball player Denver Brackeen, who she also coached with at East Central.
In 2004 and 2007, she was inducted into the NJCAA Women’s Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame and the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges Sports Hall of Fame, respectively.
Wanda McPhail, tennis coach at Meridian Community College and a former student of Ms. Wood, said, “I played basketball and tennis under Ms. Wood from 1969-1971 and while she taught me so much about the games, she taught many life lessons as well. She was always honest and fair and had the best interest of her athletes and students at heart. She has touched many lives. The chain continues as so many of us who played for her chose the coaching profession because of the influence that she had on our lives.”