Hardwick's competitive fire fierce as ever
Janice Beach-Hardwick offices out of a quiet room attached to the Altus Junior High gymnasium now, organizing papers from her desk. The cool, concrete walls around her are splattered with class and sports schedules.
Semi-retired and assisting the Altus High School athletic department, the pace is a little slower than the days when she once torched opposing teams with a devastating jump shot like the one she used to hit a game-winner for the U.S. women's national team against Cuba in the first round of the 1971 Pan-American Games in a steamy Cali, Colombia, gymnasium.
"We're down one with time running out. One of our girls steals the ball and dribbles down, I'm trailing her and she throws it to me and says, 'Shoot it!'" Hardwick remembered.
The shot went in, lifting the Americans to a one-point win.
"It was so exciting," Hardwick said. "The (U.S. national) baseball team was there and they came running out onto the floor."
Hardwick is 62 years old, trim and lanky with short gray hair. Armed with a sharp stare and firm handshake, she still looks as though she'd be willing to score 10-12 points a game if someone asked her to.
But her days seem quieter now, unlike when she led Southside, a Class B school near her hometown of Elmer that has since been incorporated into the Altus school district, to a 32-0 state championship season in 1970. She scored 61 points in a 6-on-6 state tournament game that year a record that will stand forever.
Things are quieter than her days playing at Wayland Baptist University, where she was a three-time All-American and won two national championships, all while soaking in the school's pioneering and extravagant culture of taxiing players to and from games in private jets a traveling method sparsely used in college athletics at the time.
Things are quieter now, but looks can be deceiving.
Hardwick's competitive juices boil as they always have. One of the more vocal and intense assistant coaches you'll find, Hardwick will bark orders from the Altus girls basketball bench today when the Bulldogs play in the Class 5A state tournament in Tulsa.
She took the job about two years ago, roughly the same time doctors discovered she had ovarian cancer.
Things are actually not so quiet.
The Southside Scorcher
Hardwick grew up in Elmer, a town south of Altus that still has a thumping heartbeat despite consisting of little more than a country store, church and post office.
The oldest of four children, she abused the basketball goal hanging above the garage on her family's farm and honed a useful jumper that wore out goals for years to come. Hardwick remembers taking 18-20 shots per game in high school, when her average hovered in the 40-point range.
A sharp-shooting forward who rarely ever missed a free throw and she attempted a lot of them in 6-on-6, which allowed a coach to at times pick who they wanted shooting charities she held the state's scoring record in a single state tournament with 117 points in three contests, which helped lead Southside, coached by Dub Woolbright, to a 32-0 state championship season.
The beacon of those three games was a 61-point outing against Canadian, in which Hardwick made 25 of 26 free throws. Her scoring stats have always swelled in part because she was so deadly at the foul line.
"You shoot that many free throws, your average is going to go up," said Hardwick. "Ridiculous, isn't it? But I could always make free throws. Now, that's my worst pet peeve (when players miss). There's a reason they call 'em free."
Hall of Fame girls coach Charlie Heatly, after getting stung by 55 points from Hardwick in the semifinals of his prestigious Lindsay All-Girls tournament, famously bet an opposing coach that Hardwick would drop 50 again in the finals she scored nearly 60.
Hardwick's talent was something special. In modern day, it would've drawn the eyes of the Baylors, UConns or Tennessees of the women's basketball world.
In the 1970s, it caught the attention of The Flying Queens.