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‘Dark ages’ aside, Welch hoops skills earn ‘Hall’
50-year Farragut resident recalls 3-on-3 era of girls, women’s basketball

Thanks to “dark ages” basketball for women and girls, we’ll never know the extent of Mary Jo Worley Welch’s offensive skills.

But while celebrating her 50th anniversary as a Farragut citizen, Welch’s defense and rebounding skills recently were celebrated to the max in West Tennessee.

A standout guard at Martin College — then a junior college in Pulaski — from 1952-54, Welch was inducted into Martin-Methodist College Sports Hall of Fame during a ceremony Saturday, Feb. 13.

“I played in the dark ages, three guards [defenders] on one end, and three forwards [offensive] on the other,” said Welch, 75, about the former six-player format where guards and forwards could not cross half-court.

“I was a guard, I did not shoot. I was a defensive person.”

Though no statistics were kept for guards at that time, “My coach said that I was the leader of the team and that I was the best defensive player that they had ever had,” Welch said, “Because I rebounded. I was only 5-[foot]-6, but I could jump pretty high. And I was very quick, so I got a lot of rebounds and I blocked a lot of shots.”

Welch’s eventual trek to Farragut began before she finished pursuing an education degree at Memphis State University.

“I got married,” she said, adding that in 1958, “My husband [Billy] came back from the Korean War … TVA hired him to come up here, he was in civil engineering.”

The couple has been in Farragut since 1960, and Welch operated an antique shop “in Bearden for several years” in addition to off and on work as a substitute teacher in Knox County Schools system.

But with five children, “I worked at home, I was raising a family,” Welch said.

The new MMC Hall of Fame inductee recalled one key portion of her acceptance speech. “’If I’ve accomplished anything in my life, it’s my children.’”

All five — Steve, Mary Nan, Jeffrey, Tim and Laurie — are FHS graduates, Welch said.

“I feel like we had good schools and good teachers,” she said. “I feel like my children really benefited from all that.

“I think Farragut’s a great place to raise children. These Farragut people are very good people.”

Steve Welch, a 1975 Farragut graduate, played basketball for the Admirals, “But he got a scholarship to Austin-Peay in the high jump,” Welch said. “He won the KIL in high jump [at FHS].”

Tim Welch, a standout Admirals linebacker and 1982 FHS graduate, went on to UT and eventually earned a scholarship as a defensive back for Johnny Majors’ 1985 Sugar Bowl champion team. “He played in the Sugar Bowl,” his mother said.

Welch was a standout guard at Savannah Central High School [Hardin County] for three seasons.

“Back then the county tournament was the only thing they had for girls,” said Welch, noting boys’ postseason play went all the way to a state tournament as today. “They didn’t even select an [All]Tournament team.”

Playing basketball since middle school, “I always played defense,” Welch said. “I don’t know if I could have made any [five-player team playing offense and defense], but I sure would have liked to try it.”

As a child, Welch had to settle for defense, she said, “Because my arm wasn’t strong enough to get the ball up [to the goal].”

However, “I loved defense, and I love defense now,” Welch added.

Even as a high school player, Welch was angry about the 3-on-3 girls’ format.

“The TSSAA frowned on girls playing and nothing was done for girls, and I resented that more than anything,” Welch said. “I remember I wrote a theme [paper] in high school about what girls basketball needed.

“My high school teacher gave me an ‘A’ on it, but she said, ‘What good will this do?’”

The old six-player, guard-forward girls system in Tennessee lasted until 1980.

“Even though it’s too late for me to take advantage of that, I’m still enjoying the results of it,” Welch said about the modern girls’ and women’s five-player game, adding she especially enjoys Tennessee Lady Volunteers basketball and its eight NCAA national titles.

“I have season tickets to the Lady Vols and have for years,” Welch said. “I enjoy it tremendously.”

Labeling herself and other college players on the 1950s “trailblazers,” Welch added, “We just liked to play, as restrictive as it was. … I always loved to compete.

“There were so many athletes, and many could have played now at UT,” she added. “But we didn’t have the chance.”


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