Center High graduates break down racial barriers, excel in sports, life

Debra K. Thomas, Retha Swindell honored at Center banquet celebration

A pair of Center High School student athlete standouts from the 1970s were honored Saturday night not only for their ability on the basketball court but also for their leadership in blazing trails in society and breaking down racial barriers that stood before them.

Retha Swindell and Debra K. Thomas graduated a year apart in the 1970s and went their separate ways in life. But the black women nonetheless made history each in their own way as standout basketball players and leaders on their respective teams in high school, college and in the former Women's Basketball Association, according to Leroy Hughes, an educator of more than 30 years who now serves as San Augustine's mayor.

“This banquet is a wonderful recognition for these two outstanding athletes who are also outstanding women,” he said.

Hughes highlighted the careers and accomplishments of Thomas and Swindell Saturday night at a banquet held at Center's Windham Civic Center as a celebration of their deeds both on and off the basketball court.

Thomas was a 1974 graduate of Center High School while Swindell graduated in 1975. Hughes said. At Center High they excelled at a time when women's basketball was still played on half court with offense and defense staying on their ends of the court, Hughes.

At Center, Swindell also was a state champion in the triple jump. She played defense in an era when girls basketball was a half-court game. Hughes said that might explain why rebounding was her forte, though she also ranks eighth all-time in scoring when she played at the University of Texas on an academic scholarship.

“She was the first black woman to play any sport at UT,” Hughes said. “Retha was a terror on defense and rebounds.”

 

For complete story, please see the Sept. 6 edition of The Light and Champion. For photo gallery from Saturday's banquet, please click below:

Center high basketball standouts from 1970s blazed trails, breaking down barriers