Imagine a player averaging 29 points per game for a career and receiving no college scholarship offers. That happened to Dona Fields.
Fields, as Dona Gaskins, is easily Berrien High's all-time leading scorer. She scored her 1,000th point as a sophomore and during her last three seasons was the Rebelettes' leading scorer in every game. She received no college attention, no offers.
Fields did graduate from a Division I school, Florida State, but her best chance at competition came via the Tallahassee City League, which she said did boast of several outstanding female players. They were all in her situation. None received offers.
All were born at the wrong time. Fields graduated Berrien in 1959. The only area college teams were intramural. ABAC had intermittently offered a competitive women's team, but a lack of opponents meant that nearly all of their games were against high schools.
Actually, Fields did receive one offer to play beyond high school.
"I wanted to keep on playing. I had an offer from the Red Heads, but my parents wouldn't let me play."
The Red Heads were the All-American Red Heads, a traveling semipro women's team. They played by men's rules against men's teams and were able to stay in business 50 years, finally shutting down in 1986 as opportunities for women to play increased.
The game she played was different. She was a forward and in the six-on-six game, she was on the offensive end. Not only did she and other forwards never play defense, most coaches had the strategy of getting the ball to the low post player and with Fields' height — 6 feet — she was a natural in the position. "You didn't get to develop into a total player," she said.
Even defensive options were limited, she said. She remembered being double teamed, but that strategy left one player to cover two. Some schools worked this to their advantage.
"Valdosta had three offensive players who could shoot the jump shot," she said. The Kittens would ride this to the 1957 championship and were the Rebelettes' main rival during the era.
She married high school sweetheart Julian Fields during her senior year at FSU. After spending some months with him overseas while he was in Army, she returned to Berrien County and started teaching. The varsity basketball teams were in the steady hands of "Ramrod" Stanley Simpson and she expressed an interest in coaching junior varsity. She would get a coaching job, but started with cheerleaders before progressing to the JV girls and tennis squads.
Her ascent to varsity coaching came as a surprise, for several different reasons. She said Simpson told others that he would not leave for another high school. In 1971, he resigned to take the job at Druid Hills, though he would ultimately never coach a game there. Before he left, he made another decision, one to name her head coach.
"Really, I didn't think I'd become a varsity coach. He talked to me about taking the girls. I was humbled."
Her debut, though, didn't go as planned. "Lost the first game to Lowndes and said 'Oh, that's not good.'"
The Rebelettes would quickly turn that into an 18-4 regular season, but were in no way expected to go much farther, especially when thrashed by Jeff Davis in the sub-region finals.
But "these girls could have moved a mountain. They had everything in perspective."
In the Class AA semis, they would upset Franklin County and in the finals, they would face off against Wheeler High of Marietta. Though the playing site was determined long before, Fields is still amused at the location. The teams played in Marietta, at Wheeler High. Berrien would pull off another upset, a 43-41 win for the championship and the rout was on. It was a rout of the decade for Berrien. Fields would win two championships in her five years, going 133-11 overall, 108-5 in the last four.
She walked into a playing style different than her own games. Georgia high school sports were changing. In Simpson's last season, rovers were introduced. Six players were still on the floor, but two of them could go across the center line and play on both ends.
"They had the idea that some girls could run the floor," she said.
It was a step forward, but Fields wished it was one the state had not made.
"Rovers were just a nuisance." It wasn't until her final year, 1975, that the rules would change again, this time to five-on-five and identical rules. While she was thrilled for the opportunity, it made for big changes. She got some help for making the transition, from Berrien's boys coach.
"Coach (John) Nix helped me so much. He put a group of girls out there and showed us how to run the floor."
Despite the dominance and wild scores, including a 113-6 win over Charlton County, she did not find her opponents lacking. She had high praise for Tift County's coach, Sandra Withrow and found her strongest rivals to be Charles Cooper of Lowndes and Ken Weeks of Jeff Davis. Immediately after Fields' departure, Lowndes would go on a four-year, 122-game winning streak. Weeks, she said, was ahead of the game.
"Ken Weeks would call me and try to pick my brain." She said he would ask about opponents, but was really angling for information on Berrien, whom he later coached. "He told me subscribed to several newspapers; I wonder what he would have done with the internet. Jeff Davis was the toughest. I knew he had really done his homework."
Fields would move into administration after this last season as principal of Alapaha Elementary. She had thought about another move, though. Valdosta State College was starting a women's team.
"I considered applying for the Valdosta State job, but knew Lyndal Worth was applying." She also worried about the strain of the travel on her family, especially as she would be driving from Alapaha to Valdosta.
Worth would get the job and be the driving force behind the first years of the Lady Blazers, a wide open era that saw all women's teams in one division, playing in the AIAW. One of Fields' stars, Susan Taylor, played on these teams and was a two-time Kodak All-American. Along with teammate Carol Chason, they were joined on the 1979 team by women's legends Cindy Brogdon (Tennessee) and Nancy Lieberman (Old Dominion). A year earlier VSC had defeated Tennessee and young coach Pat Summitt in the AIAW tourney.
Fields would stay at Alapaha until Berrien consolidated elementaries in 1994, then close out her career in education as principal of Berrien Primary.