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Creating magic out of dust

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By John Herndon

Wayne King chuckled when asked about the secret to Anne Flynn's success leading the Anderson County girls' basketball team to a pair of state tournament berths and a place among the state's elite programs 30 years ago.

"She had two sisters that could play," King said with a smile. "You have to have talent to be good."

There's little doubt that Anne Flynn's youngest sisters, Patty and Nancy, played huge roles for the earliest Lady Bearcats. Patty was the team leader in 1975, while Nancy was a 4-year starter who received some all-state recognition in her senior year, 1978.

And there was more talent. Kay Birdwhistell was a strong inside presence in 1975 and Debra Baxter was a good shooter in a time when that skill was rare in the girls' game.

Tammy McMichael, who started on both Sweet 16 teams, was a good enough athlete to get some interest from Evansville, a Division I school. Kathy Goins joined her in 1978 and became the first Lady Bearcat to be named first team all-state. There hasn't been a second. Goins went on to play at Morehead State.

"Kathy was something else," King said. "She was the first girl I saw that loved playing with the boys. They would have pickup games and the boys would choose her."

Flynn also had solid players like Vicki Baxter, Lezetta Cook, Natalie Stratton, Jana Allen and others to fill roles, so there is little doubt that Anderson was blessed with some good talent in those early years of girls' high school basketball.

But history is filled with talented teams that make little to no impact.

The Anderson County teams of 1975-78 immediately gave credibility to the girls' game locally and might have forced other schools to get serious about the game or get beat.

"I think Anne had a tremendous work ethic," continued King, who was the school's boys' basketball coach in 1975, but had ascended to principal in 1978. "She worked hard and expected her kids to."

Allen, now Jana Buckles, recalled, "There were days when we didn't have the gym (at the high school) so she made us run from the high school to Saffell Street to practice.

That was part of our conditioning." Such a run would not turn heads in 2008, but in 1975, it was unheard of.

There was an unabashed expectation of success. Mediocrity would not be tolerated. "Miss Flynn could bring the best out of you but she just expected that," McMichael remembered.

"I think her expectations put us on the map," said Cook.

"I was nave, but it really surprised me when we lost," Flynn admitted. "I just took it for granted that we would win."

And Flynn expected her charges to expect excellence as well.

"If you didn't work, she would just put someone else in who was," said Vicki Baxter Walker.

Several other Lady Bearcats contacted for the "Pioneers of the Sport" series made similar comments. Flynn, who wasn't even 10 years older than many of her players that first year, won't deny it.

"I appreciate what we did so much more now, because back then, I just expected that we would win," Flynn said.

If anything, Flynn's intensity might have been the ultimate reason she left coaching and teaching - English was her subject - for a career in nursing. She has now retired from the state and works as a nursing consultant.

"Coaching was hard on me. The girls would be cutting up and I would want them to be serious. I got so intense during the practices and games. Looking back, if I had it to do over, I would probably be more relaxed," she said.

Flynn drove herself to find innovative ways to make her team, and herself, better. At a time when girls' basketball teams rarely scored 40 points, her teams were often in the 60's and 70's.

The 1978 team scored 94 in a game, a mark that apparently still stands as a school record.

On defense, her teams ran a match-up zone when that just was not done at the high school level.

It was all about making the team better and the game fun.

"They were fun to watch," King said. "They were well ahead of their time. By being so, they usually took it out on the other team."

Flynn understood that girls' basketball would experience tremendous growth and the game would change rapidly.

To be successful, as a team, individuals would have to get better too.

McMichael simply smiled when asked if Flynn was a tough coach.

"Oh, yes," she said. "She could teach you something then she expected you to do things the right way."

McMichael then chuckled, "I tell you, she could chew you up one side and down the other. But the whole time she did it, you knew she was trying to bring the best out of you. Everyone knew she cared. I think that was her secret."

King agreed, "She could bring the best out of the girls, because she had a rapport with the girls and they knew she cared about them as people."

Added Cook, "Anne enjoyed the game, but she knew how to teach. She was one of the best people at Anderson County High School. She was an asset to the school and the community."

As such, Anne Flynn helped create memories and establish girls' basketball in Anderson County. So says Nancy Flynn Davis.

"She was one of a kind in the right place and right time to create magic out of dust."