Herald-Banner Saturday, March 31, 2012
THE FUTURE recreation & health
Rodgenell Sumrow Fee
Pro basketball player blazed a trail By David Claybourn Herald-Banner Sports Editor Were it not for pioneers such as Rodgenell Sumrow Fee there might not be a professional basketball league for women in this country. Rodgenell, who now lives in Greenville, played professionally for the Dallas Hornets and the Nu Grape Soda team in Billings, Mont., back in the 1940s. She made $350 a game in Montana. “That was for the main team,” she said. “The substitutes, they got paid half as much.” As “best she can remember” she earned $400 a month playing for the Hornets. Her teams won state and national titles and played all over the U.S. and in tournaments in Cuba and Mexico City. “We went everywhere in the world,” she said. All those basketball games have helped her feel young now at age 88. “I feel like basketball playing has kept me in the health that I am,” she said. Hers were humble beginnings. She grew up on a farm two miles from Merit in Hunt County. She had many chores to do when she got home from school. “I plowed and picked cotton, bailed hay. We hauled corn. And we shelled black-eyed peas.” Rodgenell Sumrow first attended school in a two-story wood building. “They didn’t have a gym,” she said. “Nothing but four see-saws and four swings. They had a place for boys to play baseball. They had a goal (for basketball) out in the dirt. The girls in high school that had a team would work out on that dirt.” Of course there were no lights for play at night. “At nighttime all the men would bring their cars and all would turn their headlights on,” recalled Rodgenell.
Rodgenell Sumrow, then a professional basketball player for a team in Montana, stood on a basketball goal for this photo in the 1940s that appeared on the cover of a national sports magazine.
David Claybourn / Herald-Banner
Rodgenell Sumrow Fee, who now resides in Greenville, is one of the pioneers in professional women’s basketball. She played professionally in the 1940s for teams in Dallas, Montana and Colorado. She remembers sitting in the front seat of her father’s Model-T watching the night basketball, hearing her father complain about running down his car battery and wishing she could play. Merit, with the help of President Franklin Roosevelt and the Works Progress Administration, built a new school in 1936 with an indoor gymnasium. Rodgenell then took up the sport in high school and quickly became a standout player for the Merit Black Cats, who were state champions in 1938 and 1939. Her teammates included Gertie Hammack and Lucille Stratton. Lucille’s brother, Monty, pitched for the Chicago White Sox and was
immortalized in the film “The Stratton Story.” Rodgenell earned all-district honors all four years of high school and was a three-time all-state selection. “I’d get out there and try my best,” she said. A former high school classmate, Clara Jo Cox, talked Sumrow into moving to Dallas and that’s where her professional career started with the Hornets, who were Southwest AAU champions in 1942. She was selected as an all-American guard in 1943 at a national tournament in Denver. She later played professionally in Denver, in Montana and then back in Dallas again. She got married and started a family as well as a basket-
ball team in Pasadena, Texas. That team won a state title in Abilene and qualified for the national tournament in Missouri. But an ankle injury ended her basketball career. The 5-foot-4 product from Merit was a forward and guard during her basketball career but preferred playing guard. “I guess because I was so rough,” she said. She also relied on her quickness. “They told me, ‘You run like a fox,’” she said. “You’ve got to get up and go, get up and go.” When she played there wasn’t a 3-point line. “If we had a 3-point line we’d have needed somebody with a machine keeping
score,” she said. The school system in Merit has also changed its name to the Bland Independent School District. Bland recently honored Rodgenell at a Bland home game, presenting her with a plaque “in recognition of your many accomplishments in women’s basketball.” “I flipped out,” she said of the special ceremony. “I have never seen anything in my life like this.” She still attends local basketball games and watches the Dallas Mavericks on television and wishes the future was better for women’s basketball. “They don’t get paid like the men do,” she said. “They’ve got to get them a job and work.”
Self-taught musician spreads his message of hope through song By Amber Pompa Herald-Banner Staff A self-taught musician with the goal of sharing his message of hope with those around him, David Lemons now thinks of himself as more of a messenger than a musician. Lemons has been using his vocals and strumming his guitar since he was 6 years old, having been taught by his father. He even took lessons with Trig Ward. “I’ve been singing for as long as I can remember,” said Lemons. “I made my living at it for probably 12 years.” It wasn’t until he married his wife, Anette, and had a little girl, Leslie, that he decided it might be time to hang up his cowboy hat and guitar strings. “At that time Leslie was 4 years old and I realized I didn’t want to be playing in smoky bars when I’m 50, so I gave up country music,” said Lemons. “I’ve never once regretted that decision.” Due to this choice to give up country music, Lemons was able to spend time with his wife and daughter. “I got to be at all Leslie’s games and other school events,” he said. “I barely missed one and that made the
David Lemons recently released his first gospel record, “Jesus, You Are Welcome Here” and is currently working on songs for his next release. time we spent together all the more special when she was taken from us the way she was.” Leslie was killed in Paris, Texas, at the age of 26 on Sept. 20, 2006. “She was going home for her lunch break when a guy she knew broke down her door,
shot her with a shotgun, then turned the gun on himself,” said Lemons. “She was such a blessing to us. It broke our hearts to lose her. What keeps me standing tall is that the Good Book says after I’m done here, I can go to her, that we can be together again. That’s what keeps me going. That’s
what gives me hope.” A few years after making the decision to leave the country music scene, and before Leslie was killed, Lemons turned to gospel music. He believes this was something that helped him heal after the tragedy of Leslie’s death. “I’ve pretty much been singing gospel music ever since,” he said of the transition from country to gospel, which took place in 1994. “That’s when I came to know the Lord Jesus as my savior,” he said. “After Leslie was killed, it was hard to be joyful in church and when singing gospel. It was a struggle for a long period of time. It wasn’t till I went to an Emmaus Walk, a fourth-day renewal movement designed for improving relationships with Jesus Christ, that I found my way out of the darkness. That was 2010.” This was not only where Lemons found the strength to go on and continue writing gospel music, but it’s also where he met his friend David House, who is responsible for writing a good portion of the songs on Lemons’ CD, “Jesus, You Are Welcome Here.” “The spirit of the Lord moved on me then,” said
Lemons. “He made it known to me that I could actually enjoy life, that I didn’t have to be sad or feel guilty for being happy and showing joy. I realized there that Leslie would want me to be happy, that I needed to pursue my music and turn it into a ministry. It’s a message of hope I try to spread when people are in despair. I do my best to help them through my music, because I’ve been there.” Lemons’ group is called For His Sake and shortly after meeting House, whose songs touched Lemons in a way nothing else could, he knew it was time to record his latest CD. He financed the recording himself and included eight of House’s songs and two of his own, “Our Soldiers Are Just Strangers” and “Maybe Tomorrow.” “I try to use my talents to spread the message of hope that was shared with me when I needed it most,” said Lemons. Lemons is currently working on his second CD, which he anticipates will include an original song titled “Message of Hope,” a single. To find out more about David Lemons visit www.davidlemonssings.com.