JERSEY? SURE!

A freshman gets the OK to wear a legendary player’s retired number

By TYLER NORRIS GOODE

Erika Joseph’s request was certainly bold. It even could be considered a bit presumptuous. But the only person whose opinion matters actually thought it was pretty darn cool that the incoming freshman sought permission to wear the lone retired jersey in Western Carolina women’s basketball history.

“I’m a coach, so I understand that numbers are special to kids,” said Jayne Arledge ’79, an Enka High School graduate who played at WCU from 1976-79. She’s starting her 34th season as coach at North Greenville (S.C.). “If they feel like that number is like a Superman’s ‘S’ on their chest, and if that’s the number they feel like they can play their best in, I say, ‘Go for it.’”

A 6-foot forward from Lilburn, Ga., Joseph has worn No. 25 since she began playing recreation league ball at age 8. She sought permission from Arledge via email and formal letter to continue wearing it and said she was ecstatic when Arledge gave her the O.K.

The quest to put that number back in circulation ultimately led to Joseph getting a crash course on WCU women’s hoops history. “I now know (Arledge) is the all-time leading scorer at Western,” said Joseph, who will be the first WCU women’s player to wear 25 since it was retired in 2006. “She’s in the (WCU) Hall of Fame, and she was the first female athlete to get an athletic scholarship to Western Carolina.”

Arledge’s scholarship only covered roughly one-fourth of her education, and she remembers being happy about getting a pair of shoes in which to play the game. She scored all 1,928 career points before the NCAA offered championships in women’s basketball.

Joseph acknowledged most women’s basketball players these days don’t have a proper appreciation for what players like Arledge endured. “I think it’s kind of lost on our generation,” Joseph said. “We take for granted what people before us had to work for and the barriers they had to knock down in order to get where they were. We’re just blessed to have those barriers knocked down for us.”

The first time Arledge wore No. 25 for the Catamounts, she helped WCU beat Tennessee (77-72, Jan. 14, 1976, in Cullowhee). Besides the all-time scoring mark, she holds three other career records and tops a trio of single-season categories at WCU. Her “retired” jersey hangs from the Ramsey Center rafters alongside the uniforms of legendary WCU men’s players Ronald Rogers, Henry Logan and Mel Gibson ’63  MAEd ’67.

Only time will tell what impact Joseph might have on WCU’s program, but she is a “special talent,” said Coach Karen Middleton.  “She’s a tremendous rebounder,” Middleton said. “She’s versatile. She’s crafty. Even though she’s not real tall for a forward, she finds a way to get it done.”

Arledge certainly has high hopes for the young woman who’s bringing No. 25 out of retirement. “It would suit me just fine if by the time she’s done, her name hangs right up there below mine,” she said.

Reprinted in edited format with permission of the Asheville Citizen-Times.