By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
It was twenty years ago today, Coach Pinnix taught the girls to press…(go ahead sing along, you know you want to). The 1995-96 Cherokee Lady Braves basketball team has the honor of being the only team in school history to win a state championship. Twenty years later, the team got back together as they were honored at Charles George Memorial Arena on Tuesday, Feb. 2 with the unveiling of a new state championship banner.
The team that beat the Roanoke Lady Redskins, previously undefeated at 27-0, by a score of 69-63 to win the title wasn’t supposed to win anything.
“With the return of only three seniors, the Lady Braves were picked by Smoky Mountain coaches and the media to finish fifth in pre-season polls,” Shawn Crowe, CHS basketball announcer, read during the honoring on Tuesday. “Ten games into the young season and a 4-6 record was proving the forecaster’s prediction to be correct.”
They were wrong. Keith Pinnix, then-Lady Braves head coach, made a few adjustments and off they went winning eight in a row and eventually entering the state playoffs at 17-7.
The playoffs had memorable moments, as most do, from Sis Fourkiller, Regional Tournament MVP, scoring four points in the waning moments of the Regional Final to beat Hayesville and punch their ticket to Chapel Hill to Peaches Squirrell, State Final MVP, knocking down free throws to seal the victory over Roanoke.
The team beat the odds…and, a lot of other teams.
The team consisted of: Kim Reed, Melissa Smith, Caroline Thompson, Sara Edwards, Phoenix Johnson, Trish Calhoun, Ardith Partion, Eliza Wolfe, Sis Fourkiller, Stephanie Jones, Sunnie Hill, Ida Lespier, Nadine Tramper and Peaches Squirrell. They were coached by Keith Pinnix with assistants Sam Taylor and Tammy Thompson.
Nowadays, some of these remarkable women still play ball. Some are mothers, some are college graduates, some work for the tribe, some have moved away. But, they are all champions. That underrated team that nobody said could do it not only did it, but they set the standard for which all future Cherokee teams will be judged – on and off the court.
They believed in themselves. They believed in each other. They believed in their coaches. And, most importantly, they believed that basketball is fun and that’s what it’s all about.
And, their fans believed in them.
Crowe read a statement from the team to the Cherokee fans on Tuesday, “The 95-96 Lady Braves and the coaching staff would like to say thank you to the Cherokee Braves and Lady Braves Nation for your support then and now! You are truly the best fans any team could hope for and without your support, we may not be here tonight…”
We still see some of these ladies at Cherokee games today, and when the game gets close, you can see them get just a little bit antsy as if they were wishing they were out there….which, I’m sure they are. Congratulations 1995-96 Cherokee Lady Braves on your state championship and on being champions in life. Keep on balling!