A look back: 1976 women's basketball team

Berry campus welcomes national champions
Berry campus welcomes national champions

By Holli Gibbs for Berryvikings.com

The Berry College women's basketball team earned Berry College's first ever national championship title in the school's history in 1976. Photo Gallery

"The ladies didn't care who got the credit, they didn't compete against each other or care about the stats at the end of the game. There was no selfishness, and that is what set our team apart from the others," said Coach Kay James.

During their winning season, the women's basketball team averaged 83 points a game and secured many honors. The Vikings won the GAIAW, the Region III of the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW), and also the NAIA Small College Basketball Championship.

Berry finished its regular season with rival Shorter College. The Vikings triumphed over the Lady Hawkettes, 78-61. This final game earned the Lady Vikes a perfect home record and a 13-4 overall record.

The next stop was State Small College Tournament in Atlanta. During the tourney, Berry defeated West Georgia College, making them the first place team in the GAIAW state tournament, small college division. Captain Nancy Paris was named Most Valuable Player.

"I go back to the camaraderie of the team; there was no bickering, we all got along well together, we were all focused on our final goal," Paris said. "However, our commitment to each other was stronger than a commitment to scoring a number of points."

With a victorious finish at the GAIAW tournament, the Lady Vikes were seeded second in the regional tournament just below Alabama State. The tourney was held in Jackson, Mississippi, where Berry and West Georgia were the only participating Georgia teams.

Berry was ranked number two nationally behind Southeast Louisiana. Yet during the first round of the tournament, Southeast Louisiana suffered a loss to West Georgia. The Lady Vikes crushed George William College, 88-54, and Union College, 84-83. Due to the combination losses and wins, Berry College became ranked as number one nationally during the NAIA small college basketball championship.

During the third round, Berry College battled Ashland College, which had home-court advantage. With an 84-83 win over Ashland College, the Lady Vikes faced West Georgia during the finals. The Vikings prevailed, 68-62.

"The West Georgia coach and I were very good friends," James said. "I admired and looked up to her, so we laughed as we sat beside each other before game, joking how the tournament could had been held back in Georgia." 

The Lady Vikes traveled home winners of the women's small college basketball NAIA National Tournament. Aside from being named number one in the nation, the team also earned individual honors.

Being the high scorers for the women's basketball team, center Paris and guard Sharon Adamson were named to the All-American squad. During the four games Paris scored 21, 32, 35 and 27 points. Adamson scored 23, 22, 35 and 27 points. Paris was also named MVP of the tournament. Paula Dean and Deborah Rice were also named to the All-American Squad.

Paris commented on the final game: "Well, it is just exactly as you would imagine: Screaming, laughing and crying it was just pure togetherness and the best feeling ever."

Women's sports were undervalued during the 1970s. Coach James opened doors for countless female athletes and coaches throughout the South.

"I would like to thank the Berry College family, they supported us when we played basketball games and filled up that little gym," said James. "Playing in a community like Berry will earn you a lot of wins because they gave us an opportunity to be our best."

After leaving Berry, James went on to an illustrious career. She coached 22 years at NCAA Division I Southern Mississippi. She had a career coaching mark of 488-244, and is among the top 25 in Division I in all-time wins, seasons coached and games coached.

The 1976 team returned to Berry College for a reunion in 2012. "I was really enjoyed spending time with that group of ladies," said current BC Head Coach Stephanie Dunn. "They looked great and were an impressive group."