Coach Stan Fowler speaks to the team.

Stan Fowler is a survivor of life and basketball, with his wife Tina by his side.

Fowler is a legendary coach in Independence County and around the state of Arkansas. In 37 years of coaching, he accumulated 540 victories in his career with 171 of those coming in his seven years at Batesville. All enjoyable years for Fowler and in 2019 his Lady Pioneers won the 4A State Championship, which tip the scales of excitement within the Batesville basketball community.

Fowler was voted Coach of the Year by his peers and through all the glory of winning the gold with a team that will go down in history as one of the Lady Pioneers top squads in its storied history of basketball titles dating back to 1982, Fowler as persevered through personal tragedies and health issues to continue with the sport he is so passionate about.

“I absolutely love coaching girl’s basketball,” Fowler said. “I compare it to a chess game. The girls are going to listen to everything we say and run through that wall for you if you ask them to do it.”

Fowler was successful at Buffalo Island Central making deep state tournament runs during those times.

“We made it to the final four and played Parkers Chapel,” Fowler said. “All of my girls were injured. My daughter was the only one who wasn’t hurt, but lots of them were noticeably limping. I remember losing to them and they had a girl who went to the University of Louisiana-Monroe.

“We were very successful at BIC,” he added. “I have really been blessed with great kids and great players.”

Among those on a list of great players he’d be afraid to make for fear of leaving someone off, would include Taylor Griffin, Hannah Qualls and Izzy Higginbottom.

“When I first got here and we were making a name for ourselves, we just had great players,” Fowler said. I have been so blessed. Our style has ben to play run and gun basketball and we were going to run it down your throat. Last year our mantra was: score 70 points and play good defense and we probably will win, and we did. This year is going to be different.”

The Lady Pioneers squad from a year go graduated 85 percent of the team.

“We are reloading,” Fowler said. “We are a very physical team and we have pretty good quickness, pretty good ball-handling and pretty good shooting. I think we have enough to really bother some people. And I hope nobody is going to come in here and know that they are going to beat us without working for what they get.”

Batesville returns Taylor Rush, who is considered by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette as one of the top guards in the state. So far this year, Rush has lived up to her status by leading the Lady Pioneers against Mountain Home in a scrimmage and when teams like Pottsville and Salem double-teamed her, she dished off the rock to a teammate for a score.

Rush, who is being recruited by Williams Baptist and College of the Ozarks, and fellow senior Zharia Childress are returning with significant playing time in the past three years. Jaden Barber, Anna Clair Ezell, Emily Harrison, Clara Keener and Olivia Everetts are seniors who have stepped up to fill the gaps left by last year’s squad. Everetts has become a force on the floor in the Lady Pioneers first three games and Ezell has been battling inside on the boards and she can hit a three-pointer or two. Harrison has also been coming on strong defensively for Batesville and is starting to put in more and more points.

And the Lady Pioneers have a strong group of juniors and sophomore who have already stepped in and contributed on the court. Abby Hurley, Gabby Dockins, Sophie Poole, Camya Porter, Julia Berdeja and Kayla Ward make up a the junior class. Hurley is the starting point guard, with Dockins, Poole, Porter, Berdeja and Ward coming in off the bench for support and score.

The Lady Pioneers sophomore class includes Reece Birkhead, Salice Speed, Hadley Cunningham, Lilly DeGray and Julianna Bonilla. Already in the first two games of the season, Fowler has called on these ladies to play key roles.

“I have more than just a top five,” Fowler said. “Taylor Rush is the most experienced player we have. She is a shooter and she can drive and run the floor as good as anybody. Then we have Abby Hurley who is a great ball-handler. She can change directions so quickly, it is hard for people to press us. I mean she has a quarterback’s arm and can throw it the length of the floor and hit her target, which is good in running the fast break. Olivia Everetts is very strong and is a passionate player. Kayla Ward is 6-1 and can really intimidate people under the goal.

“Zharia Childress is a good strong, physical player to have inside,” the veteran coach continued. “Anna Clair Ezell is another post player for us. She can handle the ball and run the floor. Emily Harrison is from Newark and a good add on for us. She has good driving skills and is going to have a good year. Gabby Dockins has had a great summer and she can jump out of the gym.”

Most of those girls he mentioned, Fowler has also coached their mothers either at Newark or at Batesville over time, like Dockins and Harrison and many, many others. Names like Cunningham, Burkett, Reese and Dockins were among Fowler’s players who now or have had daughters to play basketball for him, as well.

“I think that’s a neat thing,” Fowler said. “I have been doing this so long that I am coaching the daughters of mothers I have coached through the years. I have been coaching for 34 year was at Newark for 10 years as the junior high coach most of the time. One year I was the senior high head coach, but back in the 1980s and 90s a lot of my players then have kids now and I am coaching their kids. I have been doing it Batesville since I have been here.”

This year, the Lady Pioneers will be playing in the Searcy Classic, the Paragould Classic and the Northeast Arkansas Tournament at Arkansas State University before starting play in the 4A-East conference.

“Last year, West Memphis won one conference game, because we had COVID and no district tournament,” Fowler said. “They got hot and went to the state finals. The team that won one conference game made it that far, that is how tough our conference is. It’s not like they were getting blown out, they were losing games by one or four points.

“This year, the conference is going to be a nightmare,” he continued. “Jonesboro should win it, but West Memphis and Marion have athletes. Paragould is going to be really good and Greene County Tech had the best junior high team in the league and they are bring in them.’

Last season, the Lady Pioneers were 22-3 overall.

“It will be a fun year as we find our identity,” Fowler said. “I think the really good teams in conference will not want to play us.”

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