Dianne Kirkland Warren recalls her Barnstorming days

By MARY ANN ANDERSON
As a young girl, Dianne Kirkland first played basketball on a rocky dirt court at Excelsior Elementary in Snipesville, the school she went to for eight years of her life. After leaving Excelsior when Jeff Davis County’s schools consolidated, she then went to Jeff Davis High School in Hazlehurst, where she played basketball from 1964 until she graduated in 1968.
During her four years of play at Jeff Davis, she scored an astounding 2,166 points, with a single game high of 56 points scored against Cook County in the sub-region tournaments in her senior year. So revered was she that at her senior athletic banquet in May of 1968, her jersey, with its number 14, was retired and placed in the school’s trophy case, with the number never to be worn again.
But it was her love for the game that would take the hometown girl from that gravelly court in Snipesville to wooden courts across the United States as a member of the Southern Belles, a professional basketball team based out of Caraway, Arkansas. The team, an offshoot of the All-American Red Heads, traveled the country from 1967 until 1971 and was coached by Ben Overman.
Now Dianne Kirkland Warren – her husband, Jacky, is from Hazlehurst – the one-time hoops star of Jeff Davis High School is set to speak at the Jeff Davis County Public Library on January 18 at 7:00 p.m. She will present a lecture that tells her story from when she played for Jeff Davis to when she toured with the Southern Belles.
Warren will also discuss and present John A. Molina’s recently published book, “Barnstorming America: Stories from the Pioneers of Women’s Basketball.” The book features Warren’s story and photographs along with those of other players who “barnstormed” America with their sports expertise.
Says Warren, “I’m elated that Friends of the Library has invited me to share ‘Barnstorming America’ and my story of how I came to love the game playing in Snipesville and later to hit the roads of America playing professionally. For a small-town country girl, that was pretty awesome.”
She also says that some may remember her as a “simple farm girl” from Snipesville, or perhaps as a friend who attended Excelsior Elementary or Jeff Davis High School with her. But she also hopes that there are those who may remember that she was an outstanding player who became one of the pioneers of women’s basketball.
“One thing’s for sure, and that is I never knew I would be considered a pioneer of women’s basketball,” she says of the book’s accolades for her and her teammates. “Nor did I realize at the time that we were paving the way for the sport that women’s basketball is today.”
After she graduated from high school, Warren was offered a full four-year basketball scholarship at a college in Iowa, but declined to instead attend South Georgia College in Douglas. She was never able to get basketball out of her blood, though, and after she was courted – no pun intended – by several professional women’s teams, she accepted what she called an “attractive offer” from the Southern Belles.
Warren toured for two seasons with the Southern Belles, traveling across America and playing in arenas filled with adults and children. Think of it as the Harlem Globetrotters, Southern-style and ladies-style. Her women-only team even competed against men’s teams, playing by their rules. She and her fellow Southern Belles toured seven days a week, sometimes playing two games on Sundays.
As the specially-built station wagon “limousine” sped across the United States, she said that the one thing that often came to her mind was the song “America the Beautiful.”
“I understood what the song was about,” Warren says of seeing firsthand the country’s heartland, plains, mountain ranges, and oceans. “I saw America’s spacious skies, the purple mountains majesties, the fruited plains, and the shining seas. I experienced seeing America in all that glory and beauty.”
But the team also learned history along the routes, thanks to Overman.
“Not only did we see the scenic beauty of the country, but also we took advantage of visiting historical sites when time permitted,” she says. “We saw Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota, the location of Custer’s Last Stand, and Boot Hill Museum in Dodge City, Kansas, just to name a few. Truly traveling and playing professional basketball was an education in itself.”
And now Warren is one of 80-plus basketball-playing women featured in Molina’s “Barnstorming America,” a hardbound coffee table book published by Acclaim Press of Sikeston, Missouri. Molina’s book received the “Book of the Year” award by the New England Basketball Hall of Fame, and it also received a five-star rating by Authors Talk About It, an organization of authors who reviews books and sponsors book award contests.
Chris Voelz, the executive director of Collegiate Women’s Sports Awards, described the book as a mix of “A League of Their Own” and “Forrest Gump,” in that it chronicles American history and women’s basketball at the same time. The book has also recently been optioned for film by Crystal City Entertainment, a New York and Washington, D.C.-based film company whose credits include the Academy Award-nominated “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” and “The Ides of March,” starring George Clooney.
“For ‘Barnstorming America’ to be compared to ‘A League of Their Own’ and ‘Forrest Gump’ is such a compliment to Mr. Molina and the women who played professional basketball” says Warren. “And now it has also been optioned for a film. That’s really unbelievable and very exciting. I can hardly wait to see what happens in the future.”
Warren and other women from seven touring professional teams met in Dallas, Texas, for the first time in history in April of last year for a book signing event at the Final Four games. She reunited with her teammates she had not seen in many years, and as a bonus met with players from other barnstorming teams.
“Who would have ever imagined that we would have helped break new ground for women?” she questions. “We helped pave the way for the thriving industry that is women’s basketball today.”
She and other players will travel to Tennessee in June to Knoxville’s Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame for yet another national book signing. The event takes place in conjunction with the Hall of Fame’s 20th anniversary inductee ceremony.
Warren and her husband, Jacky, have one daughter, Jack-O Warren Bailey, who is married to Meacham Bailey. The Warrens have two grandchildren, Reid and Mary Madyson. Both families live in Roanoke, Alabama, where the Warrens moved to in 1980 from Jeff Davis County.
Warren will have copies of “Barnstorming America” for purchase at the lecture and book signing at the library. She also says that a few other players may also be in attendance, including Lenna Carey Tucker of Alapaha, one of her Southern Belles teammates. A question-and-answer session will follow the talk, and players will also be available to sign autographs.
“I cherish my memories of growing up in Jeff Davis County,” she says, “especially my high school years of playing basketball and the influence many people had on my life. I thank them for it. Jeff Davis County will always be home and I am excited that I will have the opportunity to tell of my experiences.”

15 Comments

  1. Dianne Kirkland Warren on January 11, 2018 at 4:11 pm

    Mary Ann Anderson and Tommy Purser: This is an excellent article. I appreciate you both very much in supporting me in making this such a super article. I am looking forward to the event and hope to see you both at the Library.

  2. John Molina on January 11, 2018 at 5:52 pm

    As Author of Barnstorming America, I want to tip my hat to Dianne. She is a true legend when it comes to the Pioneers of Women’s Basketball and helped set the stage for where the game is today.

    Hazlehurst should be very proud to have such an outstanding citizen and role model.

    She helped Barnstorming America become the award winning book it did by encouraging other players to open up and share their stories as well.

    May you all enjoy her discussion on her days with the Southern Belles and playing against men and by their rules when women were still playing 6 on 6

    • Dianne Kirkland Warren on January 12, 2018 at 8:49 am

      Thank you, John, for those nice comments. John Molina is such a kind and modest person, and in reality he wants no recognition for what he has done. In reality, he has accomplished something very important for women’s basketball. He uncovered and brought to life our stories and our history of the Barnstorming era. Had he not written Barnstorming America, our history would still be buried in our attics, in our basements, closets, or in boxes under the bed as mine was for so many years! Thank you, John!

  3. David Miller on January 12, 2018 at 10:12 am

    A very interesting article about a hometown girl. Having known Dianne since our school days I am amazed at what she contributed to the Jeff Davis High basketball program. After reading this article I am convinced Dianne was a “Stand Out” player in High School and the Southern Belles. I am looking forward to her presentation Jan. 18 at the Jeff Davis Library.

  4. Joel Wooten on January 12, 2018 at 3:14 pm

    Great article and wonderful recognition for Dianne and for Hazlehurst! I went to Jeff Davis High School with Dianne. She was a good friend, a good student and a great basketball player – one of the very best in Georgia and a star with the Southern Belles. Glad the Ledger is recognizing her and her accomplishments.

  5. Dale kirklamd on January 12, 2018 at 4:09 pm

    Great article – my favorite part was the reference to “America the Beautiful”, written by Katharine Bates, after crossing the country by train, so inspired, she was moved to compose that great patriotic song.

  6. Ken W. Smith on January 12, 2018 at 5:37 pm

    A great story about a fascinating groundbreaking career. Definitely movie material! Looking forward to Dianne’s reminiscences.

  7. Sandy Mann on January 12, 2018 at 9:30 pm

    I am a former teammate of Dianne’s, with the Southern Belles. Dianne was a fantastic player and a real “spark plug” of our team. She also carried the added responsibility of being the team comedian.
    We all teased and joked the men that we played, but Dianne was the “thorn in the side” of them, and the poor referees. While not slacking on her basketball skills, she gave those refs some real misery. We played men only, men’s rules, and won most of our games.
    You folks are in for a real treat in hearing Dianne tell her stories of barnstorming this great country. They are a great part of John Molina’s book, “Barnstorming America”, the historic first documentation of our experiences. Be sure to get you a copy (Dianne will have them available at her appearance). As you read her stories you will feel as though you are right there beside her, traveling and “lacin’ em up”, as she takes the court to entertain small-town America.

    Yours in Sports, 🏀

    Sandy Mann

    • Dianne Kirkland Warren on January 16, 2018 at 9:30 am

      Thank you Sandy. Without a phone call from you in early 2017, I would not be a part of Barnstorming America. You have contributed so much and it is very much appreciated. My Southern Belle teammate, I cherish your friendship and am thankful our paths crossed in 1970 when we hit the road doing what we so loved, playing basketball.

  8. Larry Perry on January 14, 2018 at 9:19 am

    I have known Dianne and Jacky since 1979. This article explains just how Dianne’s values were set in her life. A great article of a great American athlete. She stood for what she believed in and to me is a hero for it. I congratulate D for all her wonderful accomplishments in the sport of basketball. Thanks for honoring all the players with the book Barnstorming.

  9. Pratt Farmer on January 14, 2018 at 2:40 pm

    There are those rare times when someone such as Dianne takes a gift given them and uses that gift to better the lives of others. She is definitely one of those people. I have fond memories watching Diane play the game she truly loved. What an inspiration she was and still is! Congratulations and thank you, Dianne.

  10. Sherry Holliday on January 14, 2018 at 8:27 pm

    What a good article on a very dear friend. I never had the opportunity of seeing Warren play ball in her “prime” but got the pleasure of playing church league basketball with her. I have to admit she was pretty darn good. Couldn’t happen to a nicer friend of mine and I could tell a story or two about her too!! You deserve it!!

  11. Betty Merritt Creamer on January 15, 2018 at 7:28 am

    Hadn’t posted for lack of words to express all the joy, the good times and all the precious memories we had playing round ball together. It is memories I will always treasure and can’t be taken away by any means. Not only did we play the sport together and I must say we played it well and whole-heartedly, but we have been best friends for so many years. The memories we have off the court are as fond as the ones on the court. My precious friend I will ALWAYS treasure all this and you forever. LOVE YOU ALWAYS!!

  12. Dale Kirkland on January 16, 2018 at 8:51 am

    I’m proud to say Dianne is my sister. It was awesome to see those high-school games she played in. I have some fond memories of some of those games. At the end of one game, with her team being only one point behind, with Dianne at half-court and looking at the clock, she discovered only two seconds left in the game, she launched the ball and sacked it winning the game. I can still hear the explosive excitement of the crowd as the buzzer sounded with the ball still in the air. In close-scoring games, sometimes with only one or two points difference near game’s end, Dianne’s teammates would feed her the ball, knowing she would most likely make the winning shot. Passion for the game was the driving force that led Dianne’s success. Nothing deterred her focus on the game. Once, on the way to Hazlehurst to meet up with teammates for an out-of-town game, an unfortunate cow made its way into the path of our dad’s Dodge pickup. She sent the truck home by a friend and continued on to the game in Dodge County. Later on, when Dianne was playing basketball professionally with the Southern Belles Team, I had the privilege of traveling to several games with local sportswriter, Lurner Williams. It was a real treat to watch the half-time show as Dianne would demonstrate various basketball-handling skills, like making ten consecutive shots on her knees from the foul line. Another segment of halftime, Dianne would turn comedian and harass the game official for the crowd’s entertainment – it was all in fun of course – great memories for a little brother.

  13. Dianne Kirkland Warren on January 16, 2018 at 9:25 am

    I have enjoyed reading every comment. Words are inadequate to describe my sentiments. From high school classmates to long time friends and family, thank you – every word spoken here will hopefully be printed and saved for my scrapbook. I am excited to be sharing with you my experiences and adventures as well as fabulous book, Barnstorming America, Thursday, January 18 at 7:00 P.M.

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