Basketball legend Swoopes' empowerment message scores at McMurry luncheon

Keynote speaker Sheryl Swoopes and Scott Dueser, chairman, president and CEO of First Financial Bankshares, share the podium as he introduces the Olympic gold medalist and WNBA champion during Thursday’s 2023 Women’s Leadership Luncheon at McMurry University.
Keynote speaker Sheryl Swoopes and Scott Dueser, chairman, president and CEO of First Financial Bankshares, share the podium as he introduces the Olympic gold medalist and WNBA champion during Thursday’s 2023 Women’s Leadership Luncheon at McMurry University.
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Sheryl Swoopes made herself at home Thursday in Abilene.

  • She bearhugged a bank president.

  • She signed a 30-year-old T-shirt while hundreds watched.

  • She wore white athletic shoes, not heels, because she wore heels the day before.

  • She asked for water, and when told there was bottle at the podium for her, she said aloud that she preferred a glass.

  • She turned on small fan.

"Menopause," the 51-year-old basketball legend said, to nods, "is a real thing."

Swoopes, who led Texas Tech to the 1993 women's basketball title, was a pioneer star in WNBA and won three Olympic gold medals, admitted she was not the best Swoopes to play basketball at McMurry University's Kimbrell Arena, where the 10th annual Women's Leadership Luncheon was held. That would be her older brother, Jason, who recently was named among the top 15 McMurry basketball players as part of its centennial celebration.

He is a 1990 graduate.

His sister said she has been asked why she didn't come from Brownfield High School to McMurry.

Because, she said, y'all didn't recruit me.

"Don't blame it on me," she said, smiling.

The what-if hung in the air, like a three-point shot.

A day for women

The event was held in the basketball arena, not because it was a basketball arena, but because Garrison Student Center is undergoing a $25 million upgrade. It was an appropriate setting, however, though the south-end goal had to be raised to allow better views of the video screen on the wall.

The event celebrated women, beginning with the acknowledgement of McMurry's "Six Founding Women" - Willie Mae Christopher, Julie Luker, Elizabeth Myatt, Vernie Newman, Jennie Tate and Gypsy Ted Sullivan Wylie - to ending with its current president, Dr. Sandra Harper.

The former faculty member and dean became the city's first woman college president and is celebrating her 10th anniversary as president as McMurry as does its 100th year.

To Harper's surprise, a video was shown that included images with her 1968 prom date (her future husband, Dave Harper) and in a drill team uniform. And well wishes from family.

Dr. Paul Lack said in the video that Harper - whom he referred to as "Sharper" - is a woman of courage and conviction.

Dr. Sandra Harper, the president of McMurry University, smiles as she is acknowledged during Thursday’s luncheon.
Dr. Sandra Harper, the president of McMurry University, smiles as she is acknowledged during Thursday’s luncheon.

Kathi Edwards, the current board president, said Harper leads as a guiding light, with goodness and by example.

The celebration included a woman as emcee - former Paramount Theatre director Betty Hukill, recognized the lone woman on the Abilene City Council - Donna Albus, and the awarding of $5,000 in Sandra Harper Women's Leadership Scholarships to current students Christiana Perez and Ashlee Massey.

Attendees were overwhelmingly women - it seemed there was one male to each table.

McMurry moments

One man who was in attendance was Scott Dueser, president, chairman and CEO of First Financial Bank. He noted the bank's long association with McMurry and his personal hero worship of Swoopes, who, at 6-feet, engulfed the bank leader with a hug after his introduction.

A Tech grad and former Board of Regents president, Dueser never had met Swoopes.

He produced a T-shirt that read "Texas Tech: Where Men Are Men and Women Are Champions."

That drew applause from the women in the room and guns up from Tech grads and fans.

Swoopes autographed the shirt for owner Susan Robinson, who took home a one-of-a-kind souvenir.

The all-star eventually got to her speech but enjoyed the moment first.

Her brother couldn't come, she quipped, but "the best Swoopes showed up."

She confessed she had a high school crush on Coach Holmes. Ron Holmes coached at McMurry, coming to Abilene from Brownfield. She said he was the "cutest coach."

Sheryl Swoopes is silhouetted by an electronic sign as she speaks during Thursday’s luncheon.
Sheryl Swoopes is silhouetted by an electronic sign as she speaks during Thursday’s luncheon.

'Love yourself,' girls

Swoopes also confessed that when she speaks at events, she gets "anxious and nervous."

But, people comment to her, You played basketball with the world watching and games on the line. You were so cool.

"That, she said, "is what I do."

As a child, she never dreamed about playing basketball. There was no such thing as pro ball for women.

Thus, she envisioned herself as a flight attendant, so she could go places and meet people, or a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader.

Hard to believe, she said, because they are not very good now.

These days, she is associated with Nike and is a guest speaker. She has a shoe named for her, the Air Swoopes.

Her list of firsts is long, and includes being the first WNBA player to have a baby, then return to action.

Six week after giving birth to Jordan, likely named for the guy who also has a famous shoe.

Swoopes was raised by a single mom who loved her dearly, she said. A best friend who had everything that Swoopes envied told her that Swoopes had something she did not: that tight relationship with her mother who worked two or three jobs to make sure her family had what it needed, if not everything they wanted.

At 7, Swoopes first found "calmness, belonging and confidence" with a ball in her hands. When later challenged on the court, that feeling of "me and ball" kept her focused, she said.

Swoopes said there are moments she has doubted herself as an adult but she remembers that she has a purpose in life.

She paused and looked at the young women in the audience, which included members of McMurry's basketball team.

To all you girls out there, she said, "Love yourself. Don't worry about other people."

She paused again. That goes for women of all ages.

That, in part, is how a girl from Brownfield, Texas, became the national Athlete of the Year and MVP of a new women's basketball league.

Quoting a woman who did not play basketball, Coco Chanel, Swoopes said, "A girl should be two things: who and what she wants."

This article originally appeared on Abilene Reporter-News: Basketball legend Swoopes' empowerment message scores at McM luncheon