By DOUG HAIDET - (Ashland Times-Gazette Sports Editor)
Story originally ran in the
Ashland Times-Gazette on July 14, 2012
ASHLAND, Ohio - Dig back into the early years of girls basketball at both Ashland High School and Ashland College and one name seems to pop up endlessly - Darla Plice.
Impeccable timing seemed like it was everything for the multi-sport standout who went on to become an All-American and a professional hoopster.
Title IX took hold the summer before Plice’s junior year, getting passed a few months after she had played the first of three varsity seasons of basketball with the Arrows. By the end of her time at AHS, Plice had been named the school’s first female athlete of the year, earning MVP honors at Ashland in both basketball and volleyball along the way.
Still an Ashland resident, her single-game scoring record at AHS of 40 points in a game still stands, and she also set the program’s single-game rebounding record (22). Plice said she never really knew anything other than getting a chance to play.
“I didn’t think about us not having privileges like the guys had,” she said. “It was just the way things were and I really felt like, looking back, I was blessed to come along at the time I did, even though now there would probably be a lot more opportunities than there were then.”
Basketball was the only sport Ashland offered before Plice’s senior year, and she thrived in it, averaging 24 points per game for her career. Even today, though she played less than 30 total games, her 498 career points rank 13th on Ashland’s all-time scoring list.
“People knew who (Plice) was and the success she had,” said Ev DeVaul, who was Ashland’s athletic director from 1971 to 1998. “Like any athlete, be it male or female, when you have someone like that that’s a high school standout who moves on to college ... and we just haven’t had very many males or females play pro-level athletics.”
At the time of her graduation, though, DeVaul had no idea what type of player Plice was about to turn into at Ashland College, where she became the first female college athlete to come out of AHS, according to DeVaul.
Plice part of golden era at Ashland Collegeâ€¨Under head coach Ruth Jones, the Eagles were in their infancy in women’s basketball, but it was the beginning of a golden era for the program.
Plice said she had gotten lucky years earlier when her mom received a job at AC as a secretary in the athletic department. That gave the budding star the chance for more exposure to Jones, and in her senior year at AHS, Plice was named the MVP of the college’s girls basketball camp.
She still has an evaluation card she received from Jones, who gave Plice ‘A’ grades in all 10 listed skills and wrote down a few comments.â€¨“Ashland High School isn’t too far of a walk from A.C. if someone wanted to watch some good games here,” Jones wrote. “If you ever want any help with basketball, come on up.”
Plice was sold on the school, which didn’t offer athletic scholarships, but was able to give her academic money. When she arrived at AC, she played volleyball in the fall and then joined a basketball team that ended up featuring three of the less than 15 members in Ashland’s 1,000-point Club - Gweynn Hampel (1,268), Plice (1,208) and Gail Wasmus (1,200).
With that core, the Eagles took off like a rocket as members of the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women. In Plice’s freshman season, Ashland beat teams such as Pittsburgh, Bowling Green, Dayton and Akron in the regular season.
The Eagles then took third place in the state tournament — held for big and small colleges throughout Ohio — and the timing proved perfect for Ashland, as the AIAW was having its first-ever National Small College National Tournament in Pueblo, Colo.
Ashland received a nationals berth and raised some money to travel for it through an exhibition game against Pittsburgh at Kates Gymnasium, charging $1 admission for the contest March 4, 1975. The Eagles had enjoyed home crowds of better than 1,000 for the better part of the season, and the same held true that night in a 64-58 win.
Before the 2011-12 Ashland University team had its banner season, including the school’s first-ever appearance in a national title game, it was the AIAW teams of the Plice era that set a standard for women’s athletics at Ashland. Until the Eagles went 33-2 this past season, the 1974-75 squad held the AC record for winning percentage (18-3, .857).
“The community, with the support they gave (this past season), I feel like we got something real similar to that in that era,” said Plice, whose team lost to Talledega (Ala.) with a spot in the national title game on the line, eventually placing third in the country.
After that season, Times-Gazette sports editor Steve Eighinger wrote, “The female athlete used to be the intramural volleyball player or the ‘cutie in pigtails’ trying those goofy underhand free throws. No more.”
Ashland built more onto its legacy the following year, when it rolled to similar heights and even won its Midwest Regional Tournament at home — just like the 2011-12 team. AC then hosted nationals, placing fourth after losing by a point in the semifinal to Berry.
That same year, Plice and the Eagles played against Indiana and a sophomore named Sue Ramsey, who would later become Ashland University’s head coach in the sport from 1994 to present day. The Eagles won the contest by 24, but Ramsey, who later transferred to Miami (Ohio) University, got her revenge as a senior against AC in 1978, beating the team by 10.
Ramsey remembered guarding Plice, who was coming off a junior season in which she had become just the second female athlete at AC to be named an All-American.
“That team was extremely well-respected,” Ramsey recalled. “Ruth Jones was legendary.”â€¨“(Jones) was really the most influential and best coach and educator that I had in my experience,” Plice added.
Taking it to the next level
After Plice finished her Ashland career under coach Barb Wetters, she followed Jones to Purdue, where Plice became an assistant for her former mentor and received her masters degree. And once she had packed that experience away, the 23-year-old Plice took a stab in a tryout for the St. Louis Streak, a team in the 12-team Women’s Professional Basketball League.
She made the team and played in 35 of its 36 games in 1979-80, averaging 8.4 points and 4.3 rebounds per game.
“It turned out to be about $1,000 a month,” Plice said when asked about her pro payday. “At that point in time for the gals that played, we had just finished our college careers and we still wanted to play a little bit. ... They were pretty much paying us to do something we enjoyed, but it wasn’t a money-making thing.”
Plice said the squad traveled well and stayed in nice hotels, also playing in front of decent crowds in its home digs at Kiel Auditorium.
A Title IX success story
When she finished her season with the Streak, it had been less than a decade since Plice had started her high school career. And by the time the 1990s rolled around, she had been inducted into the Ashland University Sports Hall of Fame and the Ashland County Sports Hall of Fame (second-ever women inducted into the latter).
It was a basketball career of success that Title IX certainly pushed along.
“If you go back the first 10 years of adding those girls sports together, we had some good success stories,” said DeVaul of early female talent at AHS after the legislation. “... (Plice) had a skill level that was above a lot of the kids getting started in the sport.”
“Girls like her would say, ‘Let me try that, I can do that,’ ” he added. “And they’d set records and were versatile enough that they could step into the role of any athletic program and be successful.”
Plice eventually taught at Ashland City Schools for 15 years and did some coaching. For the past 15 years, she’s been the assistant manager at The Bookery, a Christian bookstore in Mansfield.
“I’m glad that I grew up in that era,” Plice said of coming along after Title IX. “... You got to do it all and you didn’t have to choose or specialize at that point in time like you pretty much have to now. ... I look back in amazement at the opportunities I was able to experience, even being from little tiny Ashland.”
Contact Doug Haidet, sports editor, at 419-281-0581, ext. 245, or firstname.lastname@example.org.