Retired Iowan Recalls Basketball Legacy
by Rocio Villalobos
Though she’s traveled across the world playing basketball for the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) and boasts seven All-American titles, two gold medals, and one silver medal, what Barbara Sipes is most proud of in her career is teaching children.
“Many people ask me, ‘Which did you enjoy the most?’” she said. “I always tell them, ‘Sure, I miss the sports, but I loved the little kids and loved teaching school.’”
Sipes, a 25-year Winter Texan at Weslaco’s Snow to Sun RV Resort, started playing when she was in eighth grade and said sports transformed the way she felt about school.
“I did not really care much for school, but when they put girls' basketball and softball in elementary school, then I loved to go to school,” she said.
This was shortly after Title IX was introduced, requiring schools to introduce female sports to match all the male sports.
The Iowan earned a full scholarship to Iowa Wesleyan University and graduated in 1968 with a degree in physical education. During her time at the university, she and her team traveled to Mexico for the Pan American games, to Rio de Janeiro, and to Poland and Brazil for World championships.
Thanks to her joining the University team, Sipes said an industrialist endowed the team, which gave them the funds to travel and buy new equipment.
“I was always very thankful and really thought a lot of my country,” said Snipes, expressing her pride in representing the U.S. internationally.
While she didn’t speak or understand other languages very well, Sipes said she managed to make friends wherever she went.
One of the most memorable games she played was in Brazil for the World Championship, which her team won.
Sipes was benched, and the team was trailing eight points behind the Russian team. The coach decided to put her and another player in, and “after a couple of times down the floor, we were tied, and we upset them.”
After graduating from college in 1968, Sipes went on to teach social studies for 36 years, while also coaching girls' basketball and softball.
Snipes shared that she questioned why her mother would give up her career as a piano concertist to marry and raise children. She decided upon a different path for herself.
“I didn’t want to get married, get pregnant, and lose everything that I wanted to do--travel the world, do sports, and teach school--so I just never got married.”
Sipes said she does not regret the decision, and even though she never had biological children, she said the students she taught were like her own.
To this day, she keeps in contact with former students and former teammates, enjoying hours-long conversations on the phone.
While she is no longer physically active, Sipes enjoys spending time with her kittens and playing the card game Pitch.
“When I was able to do things, I pretty much did it to the top,” she said. “I’ve had a great life.”
If you have someone you’d like to nominate for our spotlight feature, please complete the application below. We’ll be in touch with you if your nominee is selected.