MOULTRIE — During her basketball career at Colquitt County High, Vanessa Stewart was a three-year starter, a two-time All-Region selection, was the region’s Player of the Year in 1984 and was named a high school All-American after her senior season.

Couldn’t ask for much more, one might think.

But there was one disappointment that nags Stewart to this day.

The Lady Packers, who had been ranked as high as No. 2 in the state that year, took a 24-2 record into the region tournament in 1984 against Dougherty High, a team they had defeated twice during the season.

But Lady Trojans coach Ben Rogers decided to use a stall against the quicker and bigger Lady Packers and Dougherty won 32-31, denying Colquitt County a berth in the state tournament.

“None of us will ever forget that,” Stewart said recently during a break from her job as a para-professional in the in-school suspension program at Charlie A. Gray Junior High School.

“It just broke our hearts. We just knew we were going to state.”

That 1983-1984 team was one of the best in school history, and also included, among others Angie Richardson, Tracy Johnson, Shonta Logan, Sandra Waldon and Stewart’s sister Gwen Richardson, who had been the region’s Player of the Year the season before.

“We used what we called the ‘L.A. break,’” said Colquitt County Sports Hall of Fame member Julian Grantham, who coached the team.

“We’d kick the ball out quickly and just beat people up and down the court.”

But when the Lady Packers were not running, Stewart and Richardson former a potent tandem underneath the basket. And Stewart said she believes her sister may be somewhat overlooked.

“I think she was a much better player than I was,” she says.

But there was no denying Stewart’s ability, both in the low post and outside, where Grantham often sent her to use the deft touch she had on her jumper.

“She had good size,” Grantham says of Stewart, who is 5-foot-9. “And she was extremely physical and had good strength.

“She had great defensive ability, could rebound and she could take a shot.”

Stewart said he enjoyed the opportunity to exhibit her shooting ability.

“When Coach Grantham needed someone to score from outside, I moved out,” she says. “I had a good jump shot. I was shooting 3s before they had the line. I just wasn’t getting credit for them.

“And when someone came out to challenge me, it would be wide open underneath.

Stewart grew up playing softball and basketball in the Moultrie Recreation Department programs and remembers the influence of “Miss Beth” Redding on her as a youngster.

When she reached the eighth grade, she played for Robert Aultman and Jim McGilvray.

“We had some times with them,” she says.

As a ninth-grader, her coach was Diana Clark.

“She had our respect,” Stewart says, smiling at the memory of her freshman season. “She didn’t take anything off of us.”

When she reached the varsity level, she played for Grantham and his assistant, Mattie Taylor.

“They were like our second moms and dads,” she says of the coaches she played for as a youngster. “They were always concerned about your life, not just basketball.”

What Stewart especially remembers about Grantham was that he was willing to listen to his players.

“He was very dedicated to us,” she says. “So we felt we should do right by him. We felt like we didn’t want to disappoint him on or off the court.”

Taylor, who also is a member of the Sports Hall of Fame, was the perfect coaching partner for Grantham, Stewart said.

“She was like the backbone,” she says. “She could keep us straight. She could say things to us that Coach Grantham probably couldn’t say.”

The Lady Packers went 11-9, 16-5 and 24-3 during Stewart’s three seasons.

And it was evident even when she was a sophomore that she was an outstanding talent, eight times scoring in double figures and tossing in 25 against Central of Thomasville and 16 against Albany. She averaged 13.7 that year.

Her highest scoring average came in her junior year when she hit for 14.5 points a game and led the team in free throw percentage.

As a senior she scored in double figures 21 times, averaging 12.9 points. She also averaged 12.5 rebounds a game.

For her career, she scored 898 points.

After she was named to All-Region 1-AAAA team and being selected as the Player of the Year, Stewart was named to the National High School Athletic Coaches Association All-American team. It is believed she was the first girls basketball player from Moultrie to be named a high school All-American.

Stewart played one season for John I. Davis at Albany State before transferring to Knoxville College in Tennessee, where she played for two more seasons.

She returned to Moultrie in 1994 and has worked with the school system for 13 years, coaching Colquitt County B-team one season under coach Donald Dale.

Her daughter, Bianca Williams, is a junior at Colquitt County High School.

And while not involved in athletics, Bianca is a fine student with a 3.5 grade point average.

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