The Athens Review
When I came to work in Henderson County in 1991, the Trinity Valley Community College Cheerleaders had already picked up a couple of national titles. Coach Connie Russell had the team doing things few had ever seen cheerleading squads do. Russell retired after winning five times on the national stage.
I remember going to the Real Dairy Bowl in Pocatello, Idaho in 1993 with the Cardinals football team. Folks up there were pretty impressed with the football team, but they’d never seen anything like the cheerleaders.
These weren’t your Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, dancing and shaking pom-poms. The Cardinal Cheerleaders were athletes, guys who tossed the girls into the air and provided the foundation for pyramids and other foundations. They even had a little guy dressed as a Cardinal who would be lifted to the top of the stack, and flap his wings as he fluttered to the ground. It was quite a show.
The cheerleaders are still great today, even though the national champions have gotten harder to come by. Schools like Navarro and Kilgore started to imitate what they’s seen, and developed some pretty amazing squads of their own.
The TVCC football team was the next entity from the school to climb to the top. That Real Dairy Bowl game in 1993 was part of a doubleheader. The other game of the day was a battle for the national championship won by Mississipi Delta Community College. Many who made the trek to potato country to see the games came away more impressed with the Cards than the national champion.
Coach Randy Pippin had the heart of the 1993 team returning the following year, and opened the season ranked No. 1 in the NJCAA poll. The Cards were piloted by quarterback Donald Sellers, and sported a dominating defensive line. One of them, Darrin Benson, later played for the Dallas Cowboys for a while.
TVCC rolled over most opponents, but there were a couple of close calls along the way, including a trip to Brenham, where they survived a scare from the Blinn Buccaneers, 27-to-23. Twenty years later, I still think that’s the best TVCC game I’ve seen.
The National Championship game was a short drive away at Rose Stadium in Tyler. Perennial junior college power Northeast Oklahoma A&M had won the title in 1991, and came to Texas intent on shutting down the upstart Cards. TVCC had to go overtime to pull out a 24-to-17 win.
The Cards were back in the football throne room in 1997, with a new coach, Scotty Conley. The hard-nosed Conley was different in personality from the more outgoing Pippin, but his skills, especially on the defensive side of the ball, brought the Cards a second championship. The title was decided at Pennington Field in Euless, where the Cards routed Garden City, Kansas, 42-16.
With the success of the Cardinal Cheerleaders and the TVCC football team, eyes were turned to Athens, just in time for the amazing run of the Trinity Valley Community College Cardinals under Coach Kurt Budke.
The Lady Cards had been building under Coach Joe Curl before Budke’s arrival. Curl’s bio says while at Trinity Valley, he coached five junior college All-Americans, 10 All-Region XIV players and 14 All-Conference selections.
The Lady Cardinals were ranked No. 1 in the nation during the 1992-93 season, and Joe Curl was twice named conference Coach of the Year. Curl’s final season ended in disappointment, when the team fell short of the national tournament, setting the stage for the Budke years.
Budke’s run was amazing. He was in Athens for seven years 1993 to 2000. Six times the team earned trips to the national stage in Salina, Kansas, coming away the winner on four occasions, winning four national-championship titles.
The highlight of the Budke years was the 1999 season, when the team rolled through all 36 opponents.
Budke compiled Hall of Fame credentials, compiling a record of 273-31. His win percentage of .898 is the best in NJCAA history.
We may never see another run like the Lady Cards had under Budke, but the last three years eclipsed anything the school, or any Division 1 Junior College women’s basketball team has ever accomplished.
If you’ve been following the saga of the 2014 Lady Cards, you’re probably aware of the numbers, 108 wins and only two losses over the past three seasons. One of those losses was a forfeit.
Coach Elena Lovato has the program flying high again. To high school girls intent on playing college basketball, the initials TVCC are once again synonymous with national championships.
I’m sure the folks at TVCC will be quick to remind us that the school has benefited the community in many other ways as well — ways that you can’t quantify on the scoreboard.
Agreed, but it’s been fun watching the local school rise to the top in so many ways in recent years. The great teams put on the field, court and on the sidelines cheering them on have been something to see and have given us something to brag about.
But we should never take the wins for granted. It takes a tremendous amount of work to make it happen. It’s not as easy as they make it look.
Rich Flowers is news editor of the Athens Daily Review.