By Tom Ham, Wilson Times
PINETOPS -- The steeped girls basketball tradition at SouthWest Edgecombe High originated with the Jenkins sisters, Alphelia and Bridget, and their coach, Sandra Langley.
In their combined five varsity seasons, the Jenkins sisters, with Alphelia a year older than Bridget, combined for nearly 4,000 points and a pair of N.C, High School Athletic Association championships.
Since the sisters' departure, Langley, the only head girls basketball coach in the school's history, has guided the Lady Cougars to two more state titles and Langley is nearing 700 career wins.
Alphelia and Bridget Jenkins were honored at the start of SouthWest's athletic banquet on Monday night with their induction as the fifth class into the SouthWest Edgecombe High Athletic Hall of Fame, increasing membership to 11.
The pair unexpectedly shared the spotlight when first-year Principal John Westberg dropped a proverbial bombshell upon Langley.
Westberg announced that the Edgecombe County Board of Education, earlier in the day, approved naming the SouthWest gymnasium as "Sandra Shelton Langley Gymnasium." Langley, banquet master of ceremonies, was stunned, visibly shaken.
Alphelia Jenkins described she and her sister, who was not present, being inducted into the hall of fame on the same evening that the school gym was named in Langley's honor as "remarkable."
"I'm very happy for her," added Alphelia Jenkins, who now resides in Newport News, Va. She explained that Bridget Jenkins, now a resident of Suitland, Md., and employed by the Department of Transportation, could not attend because of a conflict.
"This is quite an honor, obviously with the program's history that we started. It's a long time coming. It means a lot to both of us. When we got the nominations, we were both very ecstatic," said Alphelia Jenkins, who accepted both commemorative plaques.
Langley hailed the Jenkins sisters as "two good role models."
Both Jenkinses starred for the 1981 team that defeated Burnsville Mountain Heritage 65-64 for the state championship. Bridget Jenkins then ignited the 1982 Lady Cougars to a state-championship triumph against Shelby Crest High. Both teams were undefeated. Alphelia and Bridget Jenkins are the program's only two first-team Converse All-Americans.
Alphelia Jenkins, a tremendous leaper at 6-foot-1, scored 2,007 career points, trailing only Tyneshia Lewis among SouthWest's career scorers. The Associated Press proclaimed Alphelia Jenkins as all-state in 1981.
She continued her career at Old Dominion University and was joined by her sister as two of the nine players on ODU's 1985 national championship team. Upon her graduation from ODU in 1985, Alphelia Jenkins played professionally in Ireland and, at age 32, tried out with the Charlotte Sting and the New York Liberty in the fledgling WNBA. She also toured Spain with the U.S. National Team.
Alphelia Jenkins' life after basketball includes finance, banking and youth services.
Bridget Jenkins amassed 1,958 career points and starred for the two state-championship teams that were nationally ranked by USA Today. The 1982 team was ranked in the top 15. Heralded as a "pure jump shooter," Bridget Jenkins was proclaimed All-State in 1981 and 1982.
She signed with East Carolina University but transferred to ODU after one year. ODU's 1985 national-championship team earned a spot in the finals against Georgia thanks to Bridget Jenkins blistering the nets for 22 points in the final eight minutes of the semifinal against Northeastern Louisiana.
Bridget Jenkins, Old Dominion's Most Valuable Player in 1987 -- the year she graduated, enlisted in the U.S. Army and landed All-Army acclaim before ending her basketball career with a major knee injury.
Alphelia Jenkins' jersey No. 32 and Bridget Jenkins' jersey No. 23 at SouthWest have been retired.
"We accept these awards with much pride and dignity," Alphelia Jenkins spoke in behalf of her sister. "And we are both fully aware that our legacy began right here at SouthWest Edgecombe."
SouthWest Edgecombe is where Langley never left after launching her esteemed coaching career with brief stints at North Edgecombe and West Edgecombe. She is a graduate of South Edgecombe.
Struggling to regain her composure, Langley commented: "It doesn't get any better. I love my community, love basketball and love my former players. I've had good players, good support and good administrators.
"I've been in the right place at the right time. (First SouthWest Principal Cecil) Long saw something in me and decided to give me the job. I came in with some superstars (including Jenkins sisters); I can't take credit for it. I'm shocked."
Langley became SouthWest's athletic director in 1991. She joked that her love for the school is extensive to the point her husband, Gerald, once suggested: "Why don't you just go and sleep out there."
"But I was determined to show," she added in a serious tone, "that you can be a female, have a family (two sons), God in your life, work -- all of it -- if you are willing to do it the right way."