Belinda Jones

Belinda Jones holds 38-year-old poster promoting her record-setting basketball play as one of the first African-American women to play on a Louisiana Tech basketball team. (Credit: Jacie Scott)
Belinda Jones holds 38-year-old poster promoting her record-setting basketball play as one of the first African-American women to play on a Louisiana Tech basketball team. (Credit: Jacie Scott)
Plaque from Louisiana Tech honoring Belinda Jones for being first four-year letter woman at the school. (Credit: Jacie Scott)
Plaque from Louisiana Tech honoring Belinda Jones for being first four-year letter woman at the school. (Credit: Jacie Scott)

By Jacie Scott | LSU Student

EROS, La. – Belinda Jones sits on the porch of her home in Eros, a small town about 20 miles from Ruston. The convergent sounds of dogs barking, birds chirping and the occasional passing car hummed in the background as she recalled her days as a basketball starter at Louisiana Tech University.

"I just loved to play. I didn't consider myself a star or anything like that," said Jones, who was a guard-forward and went on to join the first professional women's basketball team in the nation in 1978.

The 55-year-old may not have considered herself a star, but her name is prominent in Lady Techster history. She was one of two African- American women to play for the school's first women's basketball team in 1976, and the first four-year letterwoman at Louisiana Tech.

Her keen ability to drill jump shots defined her time on the court and allowed her and a teammate to score more than 1,000 points each during their collegiate tenure.

Up until January 2010, she was the only Lady Techster to score at least 30 points and record at least 20 rebounds in a game.

"She was very aggressive, a floor leader," said Ricky Melancon, a close friend and Louisiana Tech alum. "She was a very 'take charge' type of leader, encouraging and motivating."

Her days at tech made history, but prior to this she was just a kid who loved to play ball with the guys. Jones' older brother introduced her to the game of basketball.,

"I'd just always get out there with the guys because my brother use to have a lot of his friends over, and I'd just hop in with them."

She never looked back.

Jones honed her skills at Chatham (La.) High School . As she was completing her final years of high school basketball, Louisiana Tech was embarking on a new chapter in their athletics program.

In 1974, then-Louisiana Tech President F. Jay Taylor hired Sonja Hogg, a 28-year-old physical education teacher at Ruston High School, to develop a women's basketball team. The Lady Techsters would soon become nationally acclaimed.

Jones originally planned to attend Louisiana Tech University post high-school graduation program, but as news of the new women's basketball team broke, her school choice seemed even more attractive. Jones's coach relayed the news of the basketball tryouts and encouraged her to give it a shot.

"It was exciting because once you leave high school, at that time, that was the end of your career. So, it was very exciting," Jones said.

She made the team, playing at the guard and forward positions. Jones joined 11 other women, under the leadership of Hogg, and the first women's team was underway.

It's initial showing on Jan. 7, 1975, wasn't the performance of champions, losing 59-55 to Southeastern Louisiana at home in Memorial Gym. However, the team bounced back and posted the school's first victory against Louisana State University on Jan. 24, also at home.

"That first year there were a lot of bumps in the road," notes Jones with a chuckle. She recalled a game where the team traveled to Louisiana College on a bus that they named "The Blue Goose." The vehicle broke down on the way to the game and the team had to push the bus. A similar occurrence happened traveling to Northwestern State University and the team had to hook a ride back to Ruston on Northwestern's bus.

Jones and teammate LaVerne Henderson were the only two African-Americans on the team that year. During a time where racial discrimination was glaring in Louisiana, it was special to them that it wasn't the case with the team.

"It really wasn't that much of difference because we didn't look at color. We were just like one big happy family."

The Lady Techsters finished their first season with an 11-7 record before splitting four games at the Louisiana AIAW State Tournament, ending with a two-point loss to McNeese State. Jones led the team with 22.5 points per game that year.

She finished her career at Louisiana Tech as one of the first two Lady Techsters, alongside teammate Kay Ford, to reach 1,000 career points. She earned numerous accolades, including All Louisiana and Miss Offense, and was honored as the university's first four-year letterwoman.

Her college career ended in 1978, but the desire to play basketball continued to run through her veins. Jones left Louisiana Tech to pursue a career in the Women's Professional Basketball League, (WBL). Formed in 1978, the WBL is considered to be the first American professional women's basketball league to be created. The league consisted of eight teams divided into two divisions.

Jones signed with the Houston Angels to begin her professional career. That season, the Houston Angels defeated the Iowa Comets in a best three-out-of-five competition to take the league's first championship. She notes her MVP designation at that game.

"I thoroughly enjoyed it because we got to travel a lot of places: New York, California, Chicago, Iowa. We just got to go places that I probably would've never gone had I not been with them," said Jones.

After two seasons, the Houston Angels folded, putting a close to Jones' basketball career. The WLB folded a year later. She returned home and began working in the Jackson Parish school system. She coached basketball at Jasper Henderson Jr. High School in Chatham for a few years before accepting a position at G B Cooley Hospital Service District of West Monroe, where she works today as the supervisor of the Maintenance Department.

The contributions Jones made as one of the first women's basketball player at Louisiana Tech have not gone unnoticed. Over the years, she has maintained contact with her teammates and a relationship with Louisina Tech's current head coach and former player Teresa Weatherspoon.

Jones occasionally makes the trek to watch games and attends practices to speak to members of the team.

"She was instrumental to the start of this program, a program that went on to win the first NCAA Women's Championship (in 1982) as it is presently known as," said Melancon.

For Jones it goes past the points and the records. It was being part of the first team as an African-American woman.

"It's exciting. I guess no one else could pass you up on that one."