With the success of the Lady Trojans of Northpoint Christian School and Lady Quistors of Olive Branch High School, both recently-crowned state champions in their respective divisions, the basketball world — while celebrating those achievements — is mourning the loss of another champion, Sue Whitten, a member of the Horn Lake Eaglette squad in the late 1960s.
Whitten passed away on Feb. 17, 2017 at age 65 and her former classmates and teammates are remembering her legacy both on and off the court.
"I think a great many people aren't aware that she has passed and they would enjoy recalling her basketball career," said longtime educator Frances McGuffey, who called the newspaper on a recent afternoon.
Whitten, who was a Horn Lake Eaglette player and 1969 graduate of Horn lake High School, played on the "All American Redheads," which pre-dated the WNBA and was in existence from 1936 until 1986.
In 2012, the team was recognized and inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.
In professional basketball circles, Whitten was known as Sue "Rosie Red" Whitten and the "Crown Princess of Basketball."
As a 5'7 junior and senior standout player, Whitten helped the Horn Lake Eaglette squad to a 26-6 record and was a two-time All-North Mississippi pick.
Former coach Van Chancellor, who would go on to coach at Ole Miss, fondly recalled Whitten in a 1969 interview.
"Sue is one of the hardest working players I have ever coached," Chancellor said. "She is a defensive specialist and takes great pride in her play."
According to family and friends, Chancellor would help mold and shape Whitten's career and life.
It was Chancellor who invited the Horn Lake Eaglette team to watch the All American Redheads play at the Mid-South Coliseum.
Whitten would go on with the Mississippi State University for Women team and later as an amateur basketball coach and player.
In 1975, while living in California, as a member of the Sonoma County Women's AAU team, she played against the Taiwan National Women's team.
In her later years, Whitten returned to her native Mississippi and worked as a volunteer with Mississippi Wildlife Rehabilitation, helping assist wounded and sick wildlife.
Coach W. S. Donald coached at the high school level in the area for more than 50 years in all sports with his teams winning many local and state championships. For many years, "Coach Donald," as he is known in the Horn Lake community, has enjoyed a "second career" as a world class Seniors Olympic competitor. He coached Whitten in the early years of her basketball career before Chancellor replaced him as coach.
"Sue was a fine athlete and a fine young lady," Donald said."She was a heck of a basketball player. She was very energetic and everything she did, she gave 100 percent."
Horn Lake Mayor Allen Latimer said Whitten was a true public servant and had a caring heart.
"I really liked Miss Sue," Latimer said. "She was a dear person. She was always full of life and really had a concern for animals — especially rescue animals."
Valery Smith, Executive Director of Mississippi Wildlife Rehabilitation said Whitten served as a volunteer for that organization for several years.
"Susan Whitten was a very unique volunteer," Smith said. She was full of life and always kept us laughing. Everyone would send her bunnies which are hard to keep alive when found in the wild. They would always stress out but she was good with them. If we got bunnies, they would always go to her. She not only loved wildlife but loved dogs and cats. We are really going to miss her."
Robert Lee Long is Community Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune. He may be contacted at email@example.com or at 662-429-6397, Ext. 252.