LAKE CHARLES — Apphia Jordan originally didn’t care for the novelty of it all.
She saw the “woman” part of “woman boys basketball coach” as a modifier. A qualifier. The means to discount who she was, the decisions she made and the results of her North Central Hurricanes team.
Unless she and her boys downed everyone in their way in the LHSAA Class 1A postseason bracket, and only then, would her fiercest detractors no longer be able to claim that her womanhood was holding back her alma mater’s boys basketball team.
Which, of course, at the very face of it is silly. North Central’s boys basketball team had been to the state semifinals six times before Jordan took over four seasons ago. There, the Hurricanes had never won a game during the tournament’s iterations of the Top 28 and Marsh Madness. No man had gotten this school’s team, a hodgepodge group of kids that represent the communities of Lebeau, Melville, Palmetto and Morrow, past that major hurdle.
North Central High School was born in 1991, and during the years before Jordan graduated in 2003, she said she remembers scant few times when she felt the communities united. Often times, they were at each other’s throats.
A year ago, the coach took her third-seeded Hurricanes back to the semifinals, eventually falling, 64-51, to No. 2 Delhi. But even this year, she wasn’t always celebrated.
Referees and opposing coaches, standing just feet away from her on the sidelines, still breeze by her with an outstretched hand, beelining for her male assistants, under the faulty assumption that one of the men has to be the head coach.
Members of her own community chide and sometimes berate her and her calls just feet from her. Maybe they think she’s grown up, able to ignore them. Maybe they want her to hear them.
“Oh yeah, I do, all the time,” she remarks in a drawn-out tone.
Especially when, in her team’s 11th game of the season against Rayne, too fed up in her starters’ refusal to commit to her dogged defensive principles, she benched them for the rest of the game. She was coaching a team with an 8-2 record at the time, all against teams in higher classifications.
It was a game the defending state semifinalists certainly weren’t supposed to lose, and a loss she knew very well could become the difference between being the No. 1 or No. 2 seed in this year’s playoffs.
They lost, and she was right.
And all so many Hurricane fans saw in her that night was the “angry black woman” trope, unnecessarily throwing away a golden opportunity in their team’s season.
“What didn’t they say about me in the stands?” she chuckles.
“But one of the things I’ve learned, as a woman, is I have to stand behind my decisions. Whether it’s right or wrong. If it’s the right decision, I keep on doing it, and if it’s the wrong decision, I just look at how to change it. The growth these boys allowed me to have, it’s more than the woman thing. It’s willing to change and do right by each other.”
From that game on, her boys finished the regular season 18-3 in their final 21 games, firmly bought into the woman and the coach who ran her players so hard in their first practice that she made one vomit.
“We was running and running, and I threw up on the court,” said sophomore Derrick Tezeno. “I was like, ‘Well, we’re going to have a long season.’ But she taught us a lot. She’s a real smart woman. She teaches more than basketball.”
Together, the Hurricanes cruised effortlessly through the playoffs, winning by an average of 23.2 points a game. Saturday, they downed upset-minded No. 8 KIPP Booker T. Washington 59-47, a team in its first year of varsity eligibility.
With the win on International Women’s Day, Jordan became the third female boys basketball coach in Louisiana history to win a state title, following two women at Class C Pineview — Teresia Hudson in 1998 and Lakinya Currie in 2004.
For Jordan, will the hecklers stop now? Probably not all of them. Will her peers recognize the state champion head coach at first glance? Hopefully.
But quite possibly the biggest change from this journey comes in Jordan’s outlook on her own experience.
“When I came into it, I used to always tell the boys, ‘I’m not a woman. I’m just a coach, and then, over time, I think I was coming across to them like an angry mama that was always on them,” she said. “So I had to acknowledge I was a woman in order to get across to them the right way.
“In many ways, the biggest thing it means to be a woman is that I was willing to change. I understood that no matter if I’m a woman, I have to embrace change, and so adjusting to these boys and allowing them to help me grow, that’s the biggest thing I can take from this.
“I was able to stand in a position as a woman, no matter what people said or the people that doubted me.”