Darlene Eubanks' career spanned 34 years with stops at Epps, Delhi Junior High, Oak Grove and Sterlington.
Saying she is ready to start a new chapter in her life, Sterlington Lady Panthers' head basketball and track & field coach Darlene Eubanks is stepping down at the end of the school year. Following a career that has spanned 34 years, including the past seven at Sterlington High, Eubanks has earned the right to turn the page.
Despite all the long bus rides, late nights and a nearly two-hour round trip commute to and from her West Carroll home, the decision to retire was far from easy.
“It was an experience to say the least, but it's been a real good experience,” Eubanks said. “I love coaching and teaching; that's why I leave with mixed emotions. It's such a time-consuming occupation. I still love it, but I'm not as young as I used to be.”
“Sterlington High School is a top-shelf place and I've really been blessed to be part of it,” Eubanks said. “We hosted the Regional Track Meet in five of my seven years because we have so many good workers here. Sterlington High has so much to offer, not just athletically; things like the gifted arts program.
“The people at Sterlington made a country girl from Oak Grove feel at home, which is one of the reasons I say I am leaving with mixed emotions. (SHS assistant principal) Marty Bumgart has been wonderful. Boyd Cole is at Riverfield now, but he took me under his wing when I first came here. Mike Collins isn't here any more, either, but I still appreciate him giving me that call seven years ago.”
Building a program
Beyond a shadow of a doubt, Eubanks is leaving the basketball program in better shape than when she took over. Inheriting a team that had gone winless the season before, Eubanks was hired at Sterlington a week before the 2006-07 school year started.
Predictably, the Lady Panthers struggled through the first season, winning only a couple of games.
“There are a lot of things I remember from my first year, but one memory really stands out,” Eubanks said with a laugh. “We were tied at the end of a game and my girls didn't know what overtime was. I had to explain to them real quick that you start with a jump ball just like you would at the beginning of a game.
“Two of my starters had fouled out and they asked, 'Oh, does that mean we get to go back in?'”
“They had so much to learn.”
The Lady Panthers eventually caught on, making the playoffs the last six years, highlighted by back-to-back regional playoff appearances in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 campaigns.
Earning a No. 14 seed in 2010-11, the Lady Panthers (27-6) set a school record for wins and defeated Baton Rouge Episcopal 55-44 for the school's first postseason victory since 1972. La'Kelia Pounds and Simone Williams were first-team All-District 2-2A honorees for the Lady Panthers.
A year later, the Lady Panthers beat Thomas Jefferson 58-47 in the first first round, before losing to eventual state runner-up Iota 58-50 in the second round. Williams and Doryn Gremillion represented Sterlington on the All-District team.
Last season, the Lady Panthers finished 17-15, including a 44-36 first round playoff loss to Riverside.
Eubanks' tenure as the Lady Panthers' track coach was highlighted by a state runner-up finish in 2009, plus three district and regional championships. Emily Spence went on to run the hurdles for McNeese State and thrower Jennifer Goss continued her career at ULM.
“We've had a lot of special athletes here,” Eubanks said. “My husband (Fred) used to say that Emily Spence was beauty in motion in the hurdles and she was.
“Emily Lara, who threw the javelin for us, is now a teacher at Sterlington High School.”
Eubanks grew up in Madison Parish where she played basketball and competed in track at Tallulah Academy.
“I ran track for Harry Don Morton,” Eubanks said, recalling her days as a high school athlete. “He believed in practicing the girls and boys together. He was one of those who thought if a boy could do something, a girl could do it, too. I learned so much from coach Morton.”
The Epps Dynasty
Eubanks began her coaching career in the state's smallest classification at Class C Epps.
“I started my career as a Panther and I'm retiring as a Panther,” Eubanks said.
Originally hired to coach basketball, she soon started a highly-successful track & field program from scratch.
“Donald Gwin, who was the principal, and Johnny Sims, who was the athletic director, took me green out of Tech,” Eubanks said. “I asked them if I could start a girls track program and they said, 'Yeah, if there's enough interest.'”
Eubanks had no idea that she was starting a dynasty. Winning its first state title as a fourth-year program, the Lady Panthers won five state titles in Eubanks' final six years at Epps.
“I had some phenomenal athletes and community support at Epps,” said Eubanks, who coached nine years at Epps. “Peggy Lewis, who is now a junior high basketball coach in Monroe, was in the top 10 in the nation in the shot put. She was the first female track athlete inducted into the Northwestern State Hall of Fame.
“At one time, Epps held more class state records than any other school.”
Eubanks' next stop was Delhi Junior High where she continued to coach both basketball and track for eight years.
After 17 years of coaching, Eubanks accepted a teaching position at Oak Grove High School.
“I thought I was out of coaching,” Eubanks laughed.
In reality, Eubanks was halfway through her coaching career.
By spring, she was the varsity girls track coach. A year later, she was over the school's entire track program (girls and boys, varsity and junior high). In her third year at Oak Grove, she added junior high basketball to her workload, before accepting the girls head basketball position in year four.
Eubanks coached Oak Grove to its first boys district and regional championships in 25 years and won several district and regional titles with the girls program.
In basketball, the Lady Tigers reached the quarterfinals four straight years.
“Ashley Williams, who is now the basketball coach at Sterlington Middle, was my point guard at Oak Grove,” Eubanks said. “Brooke Sims, who is now the track coach at Oak Grove, ran track for me and at Louisiana Tech.”
Eubanks also coached both of her daughters, Carey and Kristen, at Oak Grove.
Carey lives in Lake Providence, so I'll get to spend more time with my grandchildren,” Eubanks said.
Kristen Eubanks continued her track career as a hurdler at Southeastern Louisiana and Carson-Newman (Tenn). She is now an assistant high school track coach in Tennessee.
Besides spending time with her grandchildren, Eubanks is looking forward to spending time with her “critters.” She owns several horses and dogs, but is naturally fond of all animals.
Rather than coaching, she plans to devote her energy to volunteer work and community service.
“I taught kids about working with horses and pigs and I taught sewing classes when I was the 4-H sponsor at Delhi. I'm looking forward to having more time to work with 4-H and visiting nursing homes,” Eubanks said.
One item stands alone at the top of Eubanks' retirement agenda.
“First, I have to clean house,” Eubanks joked.
Eubanks also hopes to add to her skill level in retirement.
“Who knows? Maybe I'll learn how to cook. I've always been gone to games, so I never learned,” Eubanks said. “I'm not very good with computers, so maybe I'll slow down long enough to learn how to send an email.”
As excited as she is about retirement, it's a bittersweet time for Eubanks.
“I've coached Paul Martin Award winners and all-staters. I've also coached several that went on to serve in the military, which I think is huge,” Eubanks said. “I've coached both of my daughters and made friends throughout the state. We weren't always on the same page, but I appreciate the officials and what they do. There have been a lot of great athletes and great people to work with everywhere I've been. I've truly been blessed.”