Prairie View 0-for-everything except hope for the future

December 01, 1992|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,Staff Writer

Prairie View, Texas -- One, two, three, four . . .

It's practice time for the Prairie View A&M University women's basketball team, and the Panthers are in the midst of a shooting exercise.

Five, six, seven, eight . . .

It's a simple drill: Two players pass the ball back and forth as they race toward the basket, and one ends up with a 12- to 15-foot jumper.

Nine, ten, eleven, twelve . . .

There's no defender. There's no game pressure. And, for a long time, there's no scoring. Balls bang the backboard and rattle the rim. They do everything but find the bottom of the net.

Thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen . . .

Finally, after 16 futile attempts, a shot swishes through the basket and sets off a minor celebration among the players. Coach Bob Atkins, who patiently watches the shooting exhibition from the sidelines, turns to several spectators in the stands and shakes his head.

"There's no scholarships, so you have to be patient," Atkins says, calmly. "But it's hard, real hard."

It's been hard indeed for the major athletic teams at Prairie View, which, since scholarships were eliminated in 1990, have been anything but high-profile. During the 1991-92 school year, the football, men's basketball and women's basketball teams ended the season oh-for-the-program in 65 games.

The football team extended the winless streak this season, being shut out four times and outscored 441-55 in its second consecutive 0-11 season. Tonight, it's the basketball teams that get their shots to end the streak. The men, 0-28 last season, will be host to Louisiana Christian University, an NAIA school, and the women, 0-26 last season, will face a tougher task when they travel to nearby Houston to play Rice.

Asked whether his women's team that lacks size (there's just one player over 6 feet) and experience can end its streak this season, Atkins thinks long and hard before he answers.

"Let's just say that we have four players returning from last year," Atkins says. "All the rest are freshmen. Does that answer your question?"

A rich history

Located 45 minutes northwest of Houston in a rural town of just more than 4,000 people, Prairie View A&M -- the second oldest state-supported college in Texas -- is a predominately black school with an enrollment of 5,000 that boasts a beautiful campus and an outstanding engineering program.

The athletic history here is rich: During the 1960s, the football team won back-to-back black college titles and sent Ken Houston (Washington Redskins) and Otis Taylor (Kansas City Chiefs) to the NFL. The basketball team won the NAIA championship in 1962 and once led the nation in scoring. And the women's track team won nine straight NAIA national outdoor championships from 1982 to 1990. Barbara Jacket, the women's track coach and now the school's athletic director, was the coach of the 1992 women's Olympic track and field team.

But financial problems that hit colleges nationwide in the 1980s took an exceptionally big toll on Prairie View. When Julius Becton took over as school president and found his athletic program was running at an $800,000 deficit, he decided in May 1990 to eliminate all athletic programs with the exception of men's and women's track.

The decision was not well-received by alumni, whose protests resulted in the reinstatement of sports on a limited budget -- no scholarships, no deficit spending, but still Division I. It was too late to salvage the 1990 football season, but enough time for the basketball teams to patch together their first non-scholarship schedules.

It wasn't pretty. The men went 5-20 playing mostly NAIA and Division II schools. The women also struggled against their scholarship opponents. Included in that season was a 121-49 sacrifice at Oklahoma.

A return to football

Year 2 of non-scholarship sports proved to be worse. Entering the 1991 season with 110 players -- some who never had played organized football before, and most of whom practically were dragged out of the dorms -- football returned after a one-year hiatus with embarrassing results. A 23-6, season-opening loss to Texas Southern showed promise, but the Panthers yielded 40 points or more in each of their last 10 games. Scores of 61-0, 77-7 and 92-0 flashed on televisions across the country, as ESPN began a weekly Prairie View watch.

By season's end, the Panthers had been outscored 617-48. It was so bad that the few fans who attended home games did so to see the Prairie View marching band, and deserted the stadium after the halftime show. The team started the year with 110 players and finished with 46.

This season, the Panthers expected to win one game -- against West Texas State -- a Division II school that this year also revived football on a non-scholarship basis. But the Panthers lost, 21-15, with the game turning on a 94-yard kickoff return by Duane Joubert -- a transfer from Prairie View.

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