By R. Alan Richardson
There’s no end to the number of players, coaches, and teams in Morgan County High School history that could be given the honor of Morgan’s Finest. Basketball star, Edna Massey Smith, gets into this prestigious list not only because of her high school career, but also her big-time career with the Mercer University Lady Bears. The point guard played for the Bears from 1979-1982 where she set a school record in assists over her career that was just recently broken. She also was a part of two high school teams that went to the state playoffs in 1975 as a freshman under Coach Nathan Carter and as a senior in 1978 under Coach Steve Cisson. Her husband, Lewis Smith, was also a star forward for the Bulldogs in 1975 on the first-ever MCHS basketball team to make the state playoffs. Both of their children, Kiara and Tyra, played for the Lady Dogs on great teams over the past eight years. Tyra took home a state championship ring this past season playing an instrumental role for her team. The couple has been married for the past 27 years.
Mrs. Smith talked about her high school playing days, “It was our way of not being at home and having something to do. I played with a bunch of seven brothers. That’s where I developed my game.” In those days, girls’ basketball played a quite different game than they do today. It wasn’t five-on-five basketball. Rather than that, there were rovers. These were the only two players on each team that were allowed to cross half court. The other three simply played either offense or defense all the time. I know that sounds crazy, but that was part of the evolution of the ladies’ game that we see today with pressure full-court defense and the run-and-gun style of offense.
Edna said, “I never read the paper or asked about my stats. I just wanted to play.” After Smith graduated and played her last high school game in the state tournament, she was approached by Mercer University Head Coach, Jane Fontaine. “I had no idea she was coming and that she and Coach Cisson had already set this in motion. We lost the game, but I was introduced to the head coach I would play for over the next two years. Our team had two very successful years under her. We were the state conference champions in both my freshman and sophomore years, but she left after that to try out for the Women’s NBA in some of the early years. We lost to Texas in the NCAA tournament my sophomore year by a score of 83-82 so we had a pretty good team.”
After that a coaching change was made. The Lady Bears were invited to play in the NIT her junior year, but after a grueling 36 game schedule she and her teammates voted not to go. Smith said, “We were just burned out.”
During her playing career she played against the best teams in the country with the likes of University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Alabama, Old Miss, LSU, NC State, Old Dominion, Virginia, Clemson, and Albany State on their schedule. She told us, “We weren’t just competitive. We beat most of those teams and owned Georgia Tech. You have to remember that this was before Title Nine where you started seeing a change in women’s sports at all levels.”
Cisson talked about her career, “Edna was my first scholarship athlete when I came here. She knew the game and knew how to run the team. Her high IQ in the classroom and on the court for a kid that age was phenomenal. She knew how to break the press, could run the team, get everybody in the right place, and she could handle the ball. No doubt, Edna was the kind of player you wanted to be your point guard. We actually coached against each other a few times after her great career at Mercer.”
“Coach Cisson taught me one thing that I will never get in high school. There were just a few seconds on the clock, and he told me, “There’s a lot of time left on the clock. Take your time.” We scored too fast and they came down and beat us at the buzzer. After the game he said, “Didn’t I tell you that six seconds is a long time,” she laughed.
She left us with this final quote from her mother and why basketball meant so much to her. “My mother told me if it’s worth having, it’s worth working for.”