Southside's Lady Rams basketball team is no stranger to tough battles. After an 0-4 start, this year's season had the look of a battle royal.
At the same time, Southside Middle School as a whole was fighting for something more important than a basketball game – keeping the school from being absorbed by the Achievement School District (ASD). While many sing the praises of the ASD for its commitment to help turn around low-performing schools, that wasn't the tune resonating at Southside from its faculty, student body and community supporters.
The fight to keep Southside from being taken over by the ASD went public, airing on various local news outlets. Armed with a level-five "passing" grade from the state, Southside avoided the ASD net. That seemed to breathe fresh air into the entire school, including the Southside girls basketball team.
Since the rough 0-4 start, the Lady Rams have won 10 of their last 12 games. The run has solidified Southside as one of the top teams in the SCIAA basketball district.
Leading the Lady Rams are head coach Toni Jackson and assistant coach Maria Devould. Coach Jackson's basketball pedigree includes having starred at Fairly High school, where she averaged 26.3 points per game. At Grambling State University, she became the first female athlete to win the SWAC Conference Player of the Year. Later, she coached briefly at Grambling State and Cornell University.
Since returning to her hometown, Jackson has coached some quality middle school girls players, including Jamila Ajanaku, who went on to play for Middle Tennessee State University and the University of Memphis, and Rochelle Primes, who played at Maryland Eastern Shore University. With over 30 years of basketball experience, Jackson believes this year's Southside team has the personnel and toughness to be as special as any team she has coached.
One of the big reasons for her steadfastness is 8th grader Tacoria Stokes, an honor student averaging 19.5 points. Rounding out the starting five are 8th graders Jayla Robinson, Jayla Cathey, Jayla Turner and Jessica Garner.
Stokes has grown into a leader for the Lady Rams and she is confident that they can make a deep run this season. How far is that?
"We can become state champs," said Stokes. "We can go all the way."
It will be interesting to see how the Lady Rams close out the season. One thing already is known – they are battle tested.