Honoring a legacy of greatness

Owen High School to recognize one of its greatest athletic accomplishments on Nov. 30

Fred McCormick

Basketball has always been a huge part of Pegg Rozzell’s life. She was one of three sisters who played basketball for Owen High in the 1960s. She still attends Warlassies games today.

It was at one of those games that something - or rather, the lack of something - caught her eye. Hanging from the rafters were the retired jerseys of standout Owen basketball players Brad Daugherty and Brad Johnson. There were banners recognizing state championships. But there was nothing marking what is perhaps the school’s finest athletic achievement.

Between 1964 and 1969, during an era before Title IX created equal access to sports for girls and women, the Warlassies basketball teams won 90 consecutive games - a prep record that still stands today among existing schools (Bailey High School, which holds the all-time record of 107 straight wins, closed in 1968). Rozzell was on those teams, along with her sisters, Carol Tyson and Terri Brooks.

Bill Rucker, second from right, stands behind his six starting players after the Warlassies won their 55th consecutive game. Sherry Osteen (4), Carol Tyson (13) and Sarah Horne (14) are all pictured.

Owen will recognize the teams by unveiling a banner on Wednesday, Nov. 30 between the girls and boys games against Enka.

“We typically only hang banners in the gym for state championships, but it was brought to our attention that they didn’t have state championships for girls back then,” said Owen High principal Meg Turner, a basketball standout herself in Virginia. “This team did some absolutely incredible things. And I’ll say if there had been equal opportunity back then, this team probably would’ve won a state championship or two.”

Rozzell is “thrilled” the teams are being honored, she said.

“In high school I was not really conscious of the significance of that record. It was just a normal part of my life,” she said. “As I look back now I see what an amazing accomplishment it was.”

Sarah Horne started playing for the Warlassies during the 1963-64 season under the late Bill Rucker (who would go on to win 638 games as a high school coach). Horne lost one game during her entire high school basketball career.

“I was a naive 14-year-old as a freshman coming onto the Bill’s team,” she said. “All I knew what that I loved the sport and I had a chance to try out. I didn’t like losing, and I never thought about losing. I just always assumed that when we played we were going to win.”

Horne and a team "loaded with talent" won throughout her freshman year, Horne recalled.

“We lost the final game, in a tournament at the end of the season, by one point,” she said. “The ball came to me, and I drove to the basket and scored. But they didn’t call a foul and didn’t count the basket.

“The referee from that game approached me the last game of the season my senior year and confessed he didn’t call that foul my freshman year because he felt like it would’ve put too much pressure on me,” she said. “It was devastating. Even after all those years.”

Carl Bartlett, chairman of the Swannanoa, Black Mountain and Charles D. Owen Athletic Hall of Fame, believes Horne is the best basketball player to ever come out of Western North Carolina.

“She came from a family of good athletes, and she was just way ahead of her time,” he said.

Horne was named to the All-WNC team in a time before there was a team dedicated to female student-athletes. She considers those super-successful 1960s Warlassies teams as pioneers.

“By us winning all of those games it gave the rest of the teams in the area something to shoot for,” she said. “That streak really helped to put Owen on the map.”

Chesney Gardner, the Warlassies’ sophomore center, said it will be an honor to play Nov. 30 on the night the teams that won 90 games in a row are honored. Rozzell coached Gardner in recreation league basketball year several years ago. Gardner’s grandmother was a teammate of Rozzell’s.

“My grandmother used to always tell me how she would throw girls around when she played,” Gardner said. “To have players from that team there that night watching us will be a really big honor. They deserve to be honored. Ninety wins is a huge deal.”