Prairie View, Texas -- One, two, three, four . . .
It's practice time for the Prairie View A&M; University women's basketball team, and the Panthers are in the midst of a shooting exercise.
Five, six, seven, eight . . .
It's a simple drill: Two players pass the ball back and forth as they race toward the basket, and one ends up with a 12- to 15-foot jumper.
Nine, ten, eleven, twelve . . .
There's no defender. There's no game pressure. And, for a long time, there's no scoring. Balls bang the backboard and rattle the rim. They do everything but find the bottom of the net.
Thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen . . .
Finally, after 16 futile attempts, a shot swishes through the basket and sets off a minor celebration among the players. Coach Bob Atkins, who patiently watches the shooting exhibition from the sidelines, turns to several spectators in the stands and shakes his head.
"There's no scholarships, so you have to be patient," Atkins says, calmly. "But it's hard, real hard."
It's been hard indeed for the major athletic teams at Prairie View, which, since scholarships were eliminated in 1990, have been anything but high-profile. During the 1991-92 school year, the football, men's basketball and women's basketball teams ended the season oh-for-the-program in 65 games.
The football team extended the winless streak this season, being shut out four times and outscored 441-55 in its second consecutive 0-11 season. Tonight, it's the basketball teams that get their shots to end the streak. The men, 0-28 last season, will be host to Louisiana Christian University, an NAIA school, and the women, 0-26 last season, will face a tougher task when they travel to nearby Houston to play Rice.
Asked whether his women's team that lacks size (there's just one player over 6 feet) and experience can end its streak this season, Atkins thinks long and hard before he answers.
"Let's just say that we have four players returning from last year," Atkins says. "All the rest are freshmen. Does that answer your question?"
A rich history
Located 45 minutes northwest of Houston in a rural town of just more than 4,000 people, Prairie View A&M; -- the second oldest state-supported college in Texas -- is a predominately black school with an enrollment of 5,000 that boasts a beautiful campus and an outstanding engineering program.
The athletic history here is rich: During the 1960s, the football team won back-to-back black college titles and sent Ken Houston (Washington Redskins) and Otis Taylor (Kansas City Chiefs) to the NFL. The basketball team won the NAIA championship in 1962 and once led the nation in scoring. And the women's track team won nine straight NAIA national outdoor championships from 1982 to 1990. Barbara Jacket, the women's track coach and now the school's athletic director, was the coach of the 1992 women's Olympic track and field team.
But financial problems that hit colleges nationwide in the 1980s took an exceptionally big toll on Prairie View. When Julius Becton took over as school president and found his athletic program was running at an $800,000 deficit, he decided in May 1990 to eliminate all athletic programs with the exception of men's and women's track.
The decision was not well-received by alumni, whose protests resulted in the reinstatement of sports on a limited budget -- no scholarships, no deficit spending, but still Division I. It was too late to salvage the 1990 football season, but enough time for the basketball teams to patch together their first non-scholarship schedules.
It wasn't pretty. The men went 5-20 playing mostly NAIA and Division II schools. The women also struggled against their scholarship opponents. Included in that season was a 121-49 sacrifice at Oklahoma.
A return to football
Year 2 of non-scholarship sports proved to be worse. Entering the 1991 season with 110 players -- some who never had played organized football before, and most of whom practically were dragged out of the dorms -- football returned after a one-year hiatus with embarrassing results. A 23-6, season-opening loss to Texas Southern showed promise, but the Panthers yielded 40 points or more in each of their last 10 games. Scores of 61-0, 77-7 and 92-0 flashed on televisions across the country, as ESPN began a weekly Prairie View watch.
By season's end, the Panthers had been outscored 617-48. It was so bad that the few fans who attended home games did so to see the Prairie View marching band, and deserted the stadium after the halftime show. The team started the year with 110 players and finished with 46.
This season, the Panthers expected to win one game -- against West Texas State -- a Division II school that this year also revived football on a non-scholarship basis. But the Panthers lost, 21-15, with the game turning on a 94-yard kickoff return by Duane Joubert -- a transfer from Prairie View.
"That was the toughest game, because we knew if we did what we had to, we would be victorious in the end," said senior offensive lineman Joseph Carter. "We went in thinking it would be a cakewalk."
The season ended against Southern University on Nov. 21 at Robertson Stadium on the campus of the University of Houston. pTC Prairie View was up 7-6, holding a fourth-quarter lead for the first time in two seasons. But with 6:18 left and after three goal-line stands, Southern scored on fourth-and-goal from the 2 and went on to win, 12-7. So close to victory, teary-eyed Prairie View players left the field with their streak intact.
"We wanted that win. We needed that game for something to build on," said Carter, a math and civil engineering major from Dallas. "You go 0-11 for two years in a row, it's tough. It makes you do a lot of soul-searching."
Football coach Ron Beard said he never envisioned another 0-11 season, but he did cite improvements. Of the 98 players who started the season, 67 finished (some of the players, at the urging of coaches who feared for their safety, were advised to leave the team).
Sure, Prairie View had to play the season with a 196-pound
defensive end and a 5-9 running back who was forced to play quarterback because no one else was suitable for the position. But some, such as speedy junior wide receiver Bo Gilliard, displayed talent.
And despite the lopsided scores and being the butt of constant jokes, the football players -- like the players on the other athletic teams -- never gave up.
"We improved, and this year we looked like a football team," Beard said. "Sometimes, you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. You just hope it's not a train."
Out to end the streak
After an 0-28 record that established a Division I record for most losses in a season, Prairie View men's basketball coach Elwood Plummer is leaving nothing to chance in tonight's opener. A year ago, the Panthers started the season with losses at Marquette, Texas A&M;, Tulane and Rice. Tonight's game is at home in the 6,600-seat Baby Dome against Louisiana Christian, a 200-student school playing its first season of basketball.
"They called in March, not long after I accepted the coaching job," said Louisiana Christian coach Charles Wilkerson. "We know they scheduled us because they figured they can knock us off. We're going in there with the thoughts of knocking off somebody bigger than us."
Bigger in school population, that is. Just like in 1991-92, this season's Prairie View men's team lacks size, with no player taller than 6-6. Louisiana Christian has several players 6-7 and 6-8.
Should the Panthers lose the opener, there's tomorrow night's game against Arkansas Baptist (enrollment: 400).
Prairie View's women's team, meanwhile, isn't even the best women's team on campus: Last week, a group of former players and others beat the Panthers in a scrimmage.
Last season, the Panthers were outscored an average of 82-45.
With an early schedule that includes Rice tonight, Northwestern and Oklahoma, it should make for a long season.
"Last year, at first it was exciting with the travel and all and going against some top teams," said Charlotte Jones, a 5-9 sophomore forward. "But to know I have to go up against a girl who's 6-foot-3 each night and who's going to beat me to the ground every time in order to score, it's tough.
"No one thought we'd go 0-26. Everybody kept saying, 'Next game, next game,' " Jones said. "We really want to win, and if we have to run 100 sprints a day to do it, that's what we'll do. There's a lot of desire on the court. This is going to end."
'View' from the bottom
The Prairie View University football team, shut out four times and outscored 441-55 this year, has not won the past two seasons:
1991 ....... ....... ...... 1992
Tex. South. ... 23-6 ...... Tex. South. ... 35-0
San Angelo..... 55-0 ...... Angelo St. .... 33-3
SW Miss. St. .. 61-0 ...... Langston ...... 33-0
Texas A&I; ..... 41-3 ...... Grambling ..... 63-3
Grambling ..... 77-7 ...... W. Tex. St. ... 21-15
Cameron ....... 51-6 ...... Alcorn St. .... 63-0
Alcorn St. .... 61-0 ...... Alabama St. ... 44-6
Alabama St. ... 92-0 ...... Miss. Val. .... 35-14
Miss. Val. .... 41-0 ...... SW Texas ...... 56-7
SW Texas ...... 59-6 ...... Jackson St. ... 46-0
Southern ...... 56-20 ..... Southern ...... 12-7
'View' from the bottom (APPEARED ONLY IN THE CARROLL EDITION)
When the non-scholarship men's and women's basketball teams at Prairie View University failed to win a game last season, it marked the first time in NCAA history that a Division I school had both teams go winless: Here's how teams fared:
Statistic.. .. .. ..Men.. .. .. ..Women
Points.. .. .. .. .64.6*.. .. .. .44.8*
Opp. pts... .. .. .99.0*.. .. .. ..82.3
FG pct... .. .. .. .380*.. .. .. .345*
Opp. FG pct... .. .546*.. .. ... .459*
FT pct... .. .. . .531*.. .. .. . .508
* denotes last in the Southwestern Athletic Conference