January 31, 2015
1:00 P.M. EST – Women/3:00 P.M. EST – Men
AL Lawson Center;Tallahassee, Florida
General Admission $10/With canned good $5
Family 4 Pack $20
Video: Rattler Vision
In 1985 FAMU women’s basketball team was first in the state and 14th nationally in attendance, averaging 1,555 attendees per game. In February of 1986 these Rattlerettes would face the FSU Seminoles before a crowd of 2,301 of mostly Rattler partisan fans in the Tallahassee Civic Center. It was FAMU back then who had most of the fan support. In fact, during the 1985 game between Florida State and FAMU with FSU as the home team, the FAMU pep band was requested to play the national anthem because the Seminole pep band was too small to tackle the feat.
FAMU starters, sisters Ester and Gail Myrick, and Valerie Seay would challenge all comers including the Universityof Central Florida, who along with the Rattlerettes were part of the New South Women’s Athletic Conference. The Rattlerettes did it as much with their defense as they did with their offense. They became the top defensive team in the conference holding other teams to 65 points per game. One star on that team, 5’10 small forward Cynthia Lee, remembers how tenacious they were on defense. “I remember this girl named Sue on FSU’s team, who could kill it with set shots. My goal (defensively) was to not let her get in her rhythm.”
FAMU defeated the Florida State Seminoles for the second year in a row. Cynthia Lee ended her last game playing against FSU with 21 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 blocked shots. According to a Tallahassee Democrat reporter the victory made the Rattlerettes 6-1 against teams from Florida and put them in prime contention for the mythical state championship [Tallahassee Democrat Feb 1986].
Cynthia Lee would continue to do great things. She was invited to try out for the Summer Olympic Games. Shin splints may have been the only thing that kept her from making the team. She graduated from Florida A&M University with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. In 1996 she was voted into the FAMU Sports Hall of Fame and is in her 29th year as a member of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. In passing, we’d speak on occasion about FAMU sports, but it wasn’t until I sat down to interview her that I learned how much she knows about marketing, recruiting, and coaching. Between the fond memories she shared of playing for Coach Mickey Clayton are tidbits of information that would help us less learned basketball enthusiasts understand what it takes for a college sports team to be successful.
Cynthia attended Greensboro High School, just west of Quincy, Florida. She was the third youngest of 4 brothers and 7 sisters. She says her brothers didn’t mind her playing with the guys because she was competitive. She often played 2 on 2 with them. She started playing basketball in the eighth grade and became serious about basketball her junior year in high school. Her coach, Robert Lewis, was good at teaching fundamentals, providing a good foundation when she came to FAMU. She was recruited by a junior college or two, but FAMU was the biggest school to recruit her.
The years that Cynthia played at FAMU, she didn’t have to carry the team by herself. She was surrounded by the likes of the Myrick Sisters. She remembers fondly Brenda Fogle, who she says was great at facing the defense and passing the ball. She describes Fogle as the best point guard to ever play at FAMU. She recalls Sybil Rivers, and longtime friend, left hander and FAMU Hall of Famer Rosa Huggins. She sometimes joins Rosa at Rosa’s son’s basketball games to see him play.
Cynthia has an older brother, who attended Florida State. She followed him to basketball and football games at FSU. It was a good experience for her at a young age and she still attends games at FSU. “FAMU needs to create that kind of experience,” she says. As far as FAMU games go, she gives this advice. “Give high school coaches free tickets. Advertise game packages. Visit successful programs and come back with ideas.”
As a player she recalls visiting churches on weekends and doing activities in the community. “That may be why people came to the games,” she said. “We even visited churches out of town, like (Dr.) Martin Luther King’s dad’s church in Atlanta.” She advises, “Make players visible in the community so people would want to support them.”
She sees a few FAMU games a year, but she says it’s hard to watch players who struggle with the fundamentals—“not boxing out and stuff.” Recalling her days at FAMU she states, “Mickey was good with fundamentals and preparation. We rehearsed until things became natural and we didn’t have to think about it in a game.” She spoke fondly of Mickey and left the impression that they often challenged each other, sometimes stubbornly, but with respect.
“Mickey required we run distances. I hated running uphill, so I ran full speed downhill and walked uphill. Mickey would drive by with his watch and catch me walking uphill. Nevertheless, I made it in time, much to his amazement.”
One of the things that Cynthia likes to do in her spare time is coach. No, she is not vying for a college coaching job. Maybe not even high school. She has been an assistant high school coach before and would rather coach players at the lower level or recreation to teach them fundamentals. She states, “By the time they get to college, even high school, it’s hard to change bad habits.”
Cynthia says she doesn’t miss those days when she played basketball. She was good at basketball, but didn’t love it. She didn’t play basketball in the off season. Instead she played tennis to stay in shape. “I knew Mickey would kill me if I wasn’t in shape. So I got prepared a few weeks before the season.” She feels she still could compete on the court, which she recently proved to a couple of young nephews who had the audacity to challenge her. She says she would like to see some of the old game films to see what they looked like then.
When asked what advice she would give to the readers, she said: “Everybody is good at something. Pursue what you are good at. Embrace it. Don’t run away from it (or take it for granted).” Back when she played basketball it was just something she did. Now she realizes that it was something special.