Then and Now: Delivering, Giving Part of Shackelford's Legacy
March 7, 2012
by Sam Hickman
Lee Lewis asked his grandmother over and over to shoot some hoops in the yard. She deflected his request for quite some time, citing sore knees and an already packed agenda as reasons for her refusal. However, Lee was persistent. About 20 minutes later, Louise Shackelford laced up her basketball shoes and granted her grandson his wish and the two took part in a game of `H-O-R-S-E.'
A woman whose personality is marked by selflessness and humility, Shackelford says that she "lucked up" on that afternoon and happened to beat Lee. Lee's father and Shackelford's son, Jasper Lewis Jr., claims "mom skunked him."
Either way, it was agreed by all parties that Lee never asked his grandmother to play him in basketball again.
Shackelford, now 93 years old, was recently honored at East Carolina's women's basketball home finale at Williams Arena inside Minges Coliseum where the Pirates hosted Southern Miss.
Some 70 years removed from her own playing days at East Carolina Teacher's College - and about 30 years after defeating Lee in the driveway - Shackelford was honored by her family as part of the "Step Up To The Highest Level Campaign." The fundraiser is a Pirate Club initiative to raise money for the soon-to-be men's and women's basketball practice facility.
Dr. Jasper Lewis and his family donated to the campaign as a surprise to Louise, who said at the game she was "shocked" by the gift.
"They surprised me," a teary-eyed Shackelford said. "I had no idea. This is really something."
Long before an area in the new practice facility would be named after "Shack" - as she was referred to by her classmates at teammates at ECTC - she made her own mark on the hardwood.
She played on some of the earliest teams in the institution's history and by all accounts, was the best player on those squads.
She recalled that her coach on the 1936 ECTC squad, which was called the "Ramblers" instead of the familiar "Pirates" name we use today, realized Shackelford's versatility, but it often made for difficult decisions.
See, basketball was not a game of fast breaks, alley-oops and highlight-reel worthy behind-the-back passes during her time. The game was played with six players on each side of half-court - three-versus-three on both ends - with guards competing at one basket and forwards playing against each other on the opposite end.
"Shack" noted that when she was on the sideline and the coach whistled for her to enter the game, she just sat there until it was confirmed if she would be playing on the "guards" or "forwards" side. She reluctantly admitted that sometimes she was inserted into both lineups to give ECTC the best chance of winning.
Jasper Lewis recalled some of the stories he had heard about his mother during her time on the court.
"She would never tell you this, but she was really, really good," he said. "Her coach would play her on both ends of the floor to give their team the best chance to win. She was a great athlete, no doubt."
During her days at ECTC, which developed out of East Carolina Teacher's Training School in 1921, Shackelford's talents were not limited to the basketball court. She brought home the crowd for the prized Intramural Horseshoes and Croquet Championships of 1936. She was also asked to teach the archery class as part of the physical education curriculum because the teacher had other responsibilities and she had all but mastered the techniques after just a few days spent in the course.
After her days as a Rambler, she went on to teach at several different school systems across the North Carolina, including stints at Selma, Cherryville and Walstonburg to name a few.
Lewis shared - and Shackelford later confirmed - that during her time at Selma, it was a fundraising event in which the teachers squared off against the girl's basketball team in a game of hoops that her talents were discovered by someone other than herself.
She said the girl's team at Selma was "pretty good," but it was no match for Shackelford and Co., as the teachers at the school easily rolled over the ninth-12th graders.
Lewis said that it's almost of legend hearing others share tales of his mother on the basketball court.
"I've never seen anyone dribble like your mama."
"That girl is good, but she's no Louise Shackelford."
Although stories of dominance in the paint and on the backboards were pushed to the foreground, her story offers much more.
She is a kind-hearted, family-oriented woman whose priorities cannot be mistaken. That was evident watching her at the Southern Miss game.
While she was the center of attention, her interest was clearly more focused on her children and grandchildren in the seats behind her than her own picture flashing on the Williams Arena videoboard
It was just like her.
Christy Butts, a longtime friend of the Lewis family, said Shackelford is the most selfless, unassuming person that "you'd ever meet."
"She's well-rounded," she said. "She could do it all. Of course, we've talked about how athletic she was. She loves her family, first and foremost. That's what is most important to her. She would work all day and come home and take care of her husband and children."
The former Rambler has always been in charge of organizing and decorating flower arrangements at her local church, which is about 20 miles in driving distance from Greenville. An athlete, caring mother and decorator extraordinaire, Lewis and Butts were quick to point out another one of Shackelford's most endearing qualities to visitors.
"She wouldn't let you leave her house without some kind of food," Butts said. "She'd make sure you were leaving with pickles or pies. There's not a time I've been over there when she doesn't have about ten homemade pies ready to send away with you. And they're all made from scratch - and she's 93."
By all accounts, she could do it all.
As for her most recent trip to Minges, Shackelford couldn't believe that so many people came out to watch the basketball games.
Not surprisingly, she indicated that only a handful of spectators came to Greenville to watch her Ramblers' squad take on other schools from around the area.
"I can't believe there's all these people here," she smiled. "I wish I could've played in here. This is fun. Look at everybody."
It's refreshing to take a step back and appreciate those who served as founding figures for a now-flourishing athletic department. It is the stories and sacrifices of Shackelford and many others that make much of what we enjoy today a reality.
She deserves her name sketched into the walls and corridors of the brand new basketball facility and her tales certainly inspire others to step up to the highest level.