These are the words of former East Central Community College women’s head basketball coach Lucille Wood in describing the standout athlete when she was inducted into the ECCC Athletic Hall of Fame in 1992.
Bender’s accomplishments on the hardwood are now recognized on a statewide level as the former standout at ECCC, Jackson State University and the New York Stars professional basketball team is among inductees for the 2014 Mississippi Community College Sports Hall of Fame.
Bender will be enshrined with other representatives of the state’s community and junior colleges at the eighth annual ceremony scheduled Tuesday, April 29, at the Muse Center on the Rankin County campus of Hinds Community College in Pearl.
The Newton resident said she is “excited” and “honored” to receive the prestigious award.
“I never dreamed I would even be considered good enough to be in the Mississippi Community College Sports Hall of Fame,” she said.
But Bender was more than “good enough” for membership in the prestigious group.
She was a standout member of the East Central Community College women’s basketball teams during the 1974-75 and 1975-76 seasons.
Bender helped lead the Warriorettes (as referred to then) to the 1976 state championship. The talented squad was led by Coach Wood, who was inducted into the Mississippi Community College Sports Hall of Fame in 2007.
Bender set numerous records during her career, many of which still stand today: most field goals (20) in a game; and best two-year scoring average (25.7 points in 42 games) for a total of 1,081 points.
She twice received first team All-State honors and both times was a unanimous first choice of the state’s junior college coaches.
Bender would have been a candidate for NJCAA All-American or All-Region recognition had EC been a member of the National Junior College Athletic Association.
She also excelled in tennis and was a two-year member of the varsity squad.
Regarding her career at East Central, Bender said she “enjoyed (just) playing (basketball) the most” but that “having a chance to go places I had never been let alone heard of was just as enjoyable.”
She does recall at least one “unusual” or “humorous” incident during her days at East Central.
“We had an outstanding speech instructor (Bruce Peterson) who would always write a poem to be read to the team before we played a game. His poems were so inspiring!” she said.
Bender said it was the “people” who made her time at East Central most enjoyable.
“Everyone knew everyone,” she said. “We helped each other and cared for each other….we took care of each other. We were a family!”
Bender also reflected on how she was recruited to attend East Central.
“I had never given any thought to attending EC until Mr. James “Creeper” Nelson told me that Denver Brackeen and Coach (Lucille) Wood wanted to talk to me. We talked….and that was that. I was coming to EC!”
She said playing for Coach Wood was a “super experience.”
“She never tried to alter us, just managed to muse the crew into a championship squad,” she said. “That was awesome in that we were a varied group of individuals.”
Bender continued her basketball career at Jackson State University, regarded at the time as the top team in the state. She helped lead the Lady Tigers to the National Black College Tournament Championship and Regional titles. She capped her college career by earning a bachelor’s degree in physical education in 1979.
Bender continued her career on the professional level in the Women’s Professional Basketball League, which has since disbanded. She was drafted by a team in Washington, D.C., and later played for the New York Stars in Madison Square Garden. Her success was highlighted in numerous major newspapers and sports magazines.
After the team folded due to financial reasons, Bender returned to Jackson State and received a master’s degree in physical education in 1982. While at JSU, she served as a trainer for the basketball and football squads.
She later returned to her high school alma mater, Newton Public Schools, where she coached basketball and track for 10 years and assisted with softball for five years.
Bender currently works for the Newton Parks and Recreation Department. She is also in her 27th year as a high school basketball official and has served the past five years officiating softball and baseball games.
She spends most of her day helping young people grow physically and mentally.
“Seems like teaching is a part of me, and to see one of them excel is a good feeling,” she said.
She has a daughter, Kotreece Bender, who is also a former ECCC basketball standout. Kotreece, a former women’s basketball assistant at ECCC, is completing her first year as girls’ head basketball coach at Lake High School.
In reflecting on her basketball career at all four levels, Bender said highlights include: (high school) being nominated to play in the high school All-Star game; (college) helping lead EC to a state championship and later her induction into the ECCC Athletic Hall of Fame; (senior college) playing basketball at a level she never imagined and to be helpful in a program of such magnitude; and (professional) and realizing the dream of playing professional basketball, which she described was “the ultimate goal. I had always hoped I would have the opportunity to go pro…and when I did, I felt I had made it…all the hard work had paid off!”
Bender can now add another highlight of her stellar career – induction into the Mississippi Community College Sports Hall of Fame.