Editor’s note: “Going Home” is an occasional series appearing in The Oklahoman throughout this centennial year. We take the famous and the not-so-famous back to their hometowns and ask: How has Oklahoma changed, and how have its towns changed those of us who grew up there?
LAVERNE — Fixed beneath the south basketball goal of the high school fieldhouse is a bright purple wall pad bearing the white lettered, gold-trimmed words: Laverne Lady Tigers. Above on the same wall, hangs a large United States flag. On a recent September day, Jane Jayroe looked at the pad. What she saw was not as important as what she was reliving. Jayroe remembered how it felt to be a part of a winning girls basketball team — the chemistry of a team that ran countless laps and stairs and abided by team rules and put trophies in the trophy case. After looking at the pad, Jayroe looked up at the American flag. Only two and a half years after playing in the state championship as a senior, Bert Parks was singing “There She Is, Miss America...” in Atlantic City as the crown was placed on the tall brunette hair of the 19-year-old from Harper County. Soon she would be off traveling the nation. Soon she would be off to entertain the troops in Vietnam. Soon she would be on her way to Europe making stops at Hyde Park in London, the Coliseum in Rome and Zurich, the largest city in Switzerland. What she was feeling as she looked up at that American flag on the fieldhouse wall was the pride of having represented her country as Miss America 1967 and knowing that Laverne, as well as her previous home of Sentinel, had a lot do with why there is a connection between that wall pad and the American flag. “To walk out on that gymnasium floor at the state tournament was a dream,” said Jayroe, whose senior class included 50 students. “To see all those people was just beyond belief. But then to be able to focus on the task at hand, that’s what mattered.” Let’s move forward 2 ½ years. “You can imagine how intimidated I was in Atlantic City, never having been on an airplane, having grown up in a town of about 1,600 people and then driving to Atlantic City,” she said. “I was so over my head. But I was able to risk my self and risk failure. “All I knew was you work hard, you risk it and then you deal with the consequences, and I learned that here.” Going to the line Amid the sounds of current students dribbling basketballs, followed by either a swoosh of a jumpshot or a rattle of the rim, Jayroe boasted of her Lady Tiger teammates in the 1960s and Coach Walt Huffman. “What I remember was a culture of discipline and the attitude that we had that I really walked into because the team had that determination when I moved to Laverne,” she said, “and I was so thrilled to be a part of that. “I think it really did teach me a lot about being a part of something important.” Discipline? Yes. As in very strict rules. As in there are no names on the back of the uniforms but your town’s name or nickname is on the front. And if you break those rules you’ve let Coach Huffman and the Lady Tigers down. And that would be the worst loss you could suffer. “If you stayed out later than the team rules allowed you were signaling to them that you didn’t care about winning like they cared about winning,” she said. “We just didn’t do that to each other.” Discipline was also about running laps and stairs and laps and stairs when nobody but your teammates was around. “There was kind of a euphoria that came with knowing that you were part of this well-oiled team of discipline,” Jayroe said. “I mean we were somebody because of what we were willing to do. We had talent but we had effort with a capital E. And then we had tremendous support from the community. “We didn’t lose many games.” The game was six on six back then — three guards and three forwards per team divided at half-court. She talked of the talents of all but specifically mentioned Lola Ham and Glenda Rogers. She talked about a controversial loss to Okeene her junior year and how it ended what they thought was their season. She talked of a far northwestern Oklahoma community that never failed when it came to support in victory and defeat. She didn’t talk about herself. But newspaper archives are a great thing. They’ll give you insight into pressure, such as stepping to the free throw line where in the quarterfinal and semi-final games Jayroe was a combined 18 of 26 and scored a total of 42 points. Jayroe didn’t tell me about those games. Instead she skipped ahead to a foul she was called for in double overtime against Mangum her senior year. She was 17-years-old and was called for a foul on a Mangum High School player in the state championship at Municipal Auditorium in Oklahoma City. That foul sent Greta Hogan to the free throw line for what would result in a double-overtime loss for the Lady Tigers. But the lesson learned: life was anything but over. “It wasn’t a total devastation because we did really well,” she said. And because they knew what to expect when they arrived in Laverne. This town near the eastern edge of the Oklahoma Panhandle had turned out in big numbers to watch their team at the state championship in the state capital city. But the town’s people were also there for the girls after the loss at season’s end the year before. Thus Jayroe said the team had no doubt the town would support them after the loss at state. “There was joy in what we’d done in the four years of being together and the excellence that had come with it,” she said.
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Jane Jayroe, winning the Miss America pageant.