Memento lost, now found celebrates a culture of Sisterhood – and the remarkable person who inspired it
Photos of Leslie Boyd and Trista’s trophy courtesy of Jasmine Rhodes.
When Leslie Boyd looked at the photo in the text message, all she could do was cry.
“I just about collapsed. I mean, I was sobbing uncontrollably,” said Boyd, the former Chapman and current Spartanburg girls varsity basketball coach.
In the photo, sent to Boyd from Maddie Blackwell, one of her former players at Chapman, was a small wooden trophy. It features Boyd’s aunt Trista’s name and number 50, and is a commemoration of the Panthers’ 1989 Class 2A state championship.
Somewhere, somehow, in Boyd’s move from Chapman to Spartanburg, it was lost. Blackwell found out, searched at Chapman, and found it.
“I honestly never thought I’d see it again,” Boyd said, nearly tearing up again at the thought.
The little wooden trophy is more than just a memento. It’s a talisman of sorts. It’s a link to the past. It’s a tangible, real representation of what Boyd calls “a sisterhood.” And it’s a reminder of an aunt who Boyd never met, but who she strives to be like, and of her tragic, unexpected fight for her life.
But we’ll get to all that.
First, you need to understand where it came from.
Jane Lewis led Chapman to three state basketball titles in her 12 years as coach. There was a 2A title in 1982 and a 3A crown in 1987. And then, in the 1988-89 season, there was another 2A championship, something even Lewis herself didn’t expect.
“Oh, they were special,” Lewis said of her 1989 team. “Really, that wasn’t supposed to happen. But the thing was, we had four seniors who were sophomores in 1987 and who had been there and experienced winning a state title. Sabrina Smith was a key one for us, one of those players who wasn’t as integral in ‘87 but who played a big part in 1989.”
Members of the 1989 Chapman 2A State Championship team are shown in their postgame celebration. Trista Landrum is second from the left, just below the trophy.
Part of what made them so special, Lewis thinks, was the way they treated each other and the camaraderie between the girls.
“All my teams at Chapman were close,” she said. “We had very, very few who didn’t gel. That’s unusual with girls. There’s sometimes a rivalry there that keeps it from happening. We were lucky that we didn’t have that. I honestly had more problems with middle school teams than I ever had at Chapman. In 12 years, I had really good groups. But that 1989 group, I don’t think they realized they were pretty good until about halfway through. We had good starters, we had enough backup with people off the bench to where if somebody got in foul trouble, I had somebody who could come in and take her place. The big thing was, it was just a great group of kids. They were well-balanced, they worked hard on their academics and they were just great all-around girls.”
So, when it was time to celebrate the championship, Lewis wanted to do something special for her girls. And in 1989, championships were celebrated a little bit differently.
“A ring wasn’t in the writing,” Lewis said with a laugh. “When we won the state championship in 1982, we got a T-shirt. When we won it in 1987, I think we got a jacket to go with the T-shirt. Connie Culbreth paid for a billboard, and we all got a picture of that. But in 1989, I wanted them to have something special.”
Lewis’ husband, Darrell, was an assistant coach for some very good Chapman football teams. The 1988 and 1989 Appalachian 2A football champions had received wooden trophies. Longtime Chapman principal and District One administrator Grady Holden was contacted by the person who made the football versions, and he made them for Lewis and her team.
“He carved them, varnished them, shellacked them and painted them,” Lewis said. “They were really nice. They still are. I keep ours in my curio cabinet.”
“You just couldn’t have found a better person”
One of the buoyant personalities central to the team was Trista Landrum. A sophomore in 1989, Landrum filled an important role for the Panthers. She was a fierce defender and rebounder, and a beloved teammate outside the lines.
“You just couldn’t have found a better person,” Lewis said. “Such a sweet girl. Such a beautiful smile. Trista was a sweet, bright, shining star with a smile that would light up a room. She was truly a beautiful soul, inside and out.”
Nicole Smith, a guard for the Panthers, befriended Trista on her very first day at Inman Elementary, a friendship that continued for years.
“Her beauty on the inside matched her outside beauty,” Smith said. “She was humble, dingy, fierce on the court, and girls loved her just as much as guys did.”
Kelly Pope-Black was a sophomore in 1989, the same as Trista. A role-player on the team, she remembers her friend much like everyone else does.
“Her smile,” Pope-Black said. “Her laugh – she had the most infectious laugh. And she was always so kind, and I honestly don’t remember ever hearing her say a negative thing about anybody.”
She also remembers every bit of the march to the state championship.
“It was amazing watching that game and watching players that you looked up to and admired and wanted to be like if you ever did get the opportunity to play in another state championship game,” she said.
While very good, the Panthers didn’t get the opportunity to get back. And for Pope-Black, that makes 1989 – and the small wooden trophy that came with it – irreplaceable.
“Looking back and knowing it was something we got to share with Trista, not knowing that we wouldn’t have her two years from then, made it even more special.”
A stunning diagnosis
Lewis remembers Trista coming to her with a problem. She’d felt a lump in her breast and wondered if she should be concerned.
“I told her to go home, tell her mama and go to the doctor,” Lewis said. “She did, but…”
Trista was twice told not to worry about her condition. By the time doctors knew something was wrong, things had progressed. She was diagnosed with a particularly aggressive breast cancer that had already spread throughout her body.
“My house was the hangout spot during the summer because I had popular brothers,” Smith said. “I remember Trista telling me she had cancer. She removed her wig in a kind of embarrassed way, and I just told her she was still so beautiful. And she fought. She went to school ill. She smiled even through the pain.”
Lewis remembers those days, too.
“We tried to make every day good for her,” she said. “Every year the home ec classes had a mock wedding, and Trista was the bride. Her mom would take her to the hospital, she’d get injections to deal with the pain, and she’d come to school and stay as long as she could. We made her a pallet in the locker room, and she’d come in and lie down. When she said that was it, she needed to go home, we’d call her mom or her dad and we’d help carry her to the car.”
Lewis said that through it all, Trista was herself – positive, upbeat and happy.
“She never lost her smile,” Lewis said. “She tried to fight. We raised money to get her to M.D. Anderson in Houston, but they couldn’t treat her. The cancer was too aggressive. She wanted to come to school as many days as she was able, and we wanted to make them all special. We tried to make her as happy as she could be. And she was a good student. It was all about academics, and she’d already decided to go to school. Whether she played ball or not wasn’t important, she was going to get her degree.”
Pope-Black saw Trista’s positivity as well, even when her illness began to worsen.
“I don’t think that a lot of us knew what breast cancer was, and that you could get it so young,” she said. “But even through all that, when we went to see her at home and she was so sick, Trista was still laughing and smiling and trying to make everyone around her happy and stay positive in the moment.”
By late November 1990, Trista couldn’t fight anymore.
“It’s really hard on everybody to watch somebody so strong go through that,” Lewis said. “I went to see her several times in the hospital in that last month. I was there the day before she passed. Brenda said she knew time was getting close. They weren’t letting many people in so that Trista wouldn’t pick up an illness and get even worse. But I went and sat with her. Before, she could talk to me. That day, she could squeeze my hand, but couldn’t open her eyes. And the next day, she was gone. You know…a coach isn’t supposed to outlive her players.”
When Trista was buried, the 1989 team served as honorary escorts. They wore white dresses and their state championship medals.
A lasting legacy
Leslie didn’t know her aunt. She’s 32. It’s been 32 years since Trista died.
She does, however, know a bunch of stories. Some of what she knows is hilariously tied to what she said her grandmother calls Trista’s “complete lack of common sense” – an episode that saw her elbows-deep in a bowl of boxed cake mix that instructed her to mix by hand, or a request for a watch to take the minutes of a meeting. But she’s also heard about Trista’s commitment to her academics, about her sweet and gentle nature, about her genuine goodness.
“I think Brenda probably impressed a bunch of that on her by telling her stories about Trista and by showing her things,” Lewis said.
Brenda Landrum said that’s true.
“Leslie reminds me a lot of (Trista),” Brenda Landrum said. “She’s got that same quality of being a go-getter. She’s just so kind and nice to people. I never thought Leslie would be a schoolteacher, but I always though Trissy would. She just loved school. I think if she could have stayed at school for 24 hours a day, she’d have done it.”
In a way, with Brenda’s help, Leslie did find a way for Trista to stay at school. At least for Leslie’s basketball teams.
When Leslie got the varsity job at Chapman, at the close of the press conference welcoming her to the job, Brenda presented her with a gift.
A small, wooden trophy with Trista’s name on it, recognizing the 1989 2A state champions.
“When they won the championship, Trissy just cherished that trophy,” Brenda said. “I’ve been through a divorce since she died. I’ve moved. I happened to find it, and it’s one of the few things that have stayed with me. She was just so proud of it, and I’m glad that Leslie did what she did with it.”
What she did with it was nothing. At least not at first. It sat on her desk in her space at Chapman for a while. Eventually, Leslie and her assistant, Alex Colson, hit upon an idea. Their team was more than a team, it was a family. A sisterhood, more specifically. And each week during the season, they decided to honor a player who best embodied the qualities of the sisterhood. Stats, points, rebounds, assignments – none of that mattered.
“Heart,” Leslie said. “Desire. Leadership. Love. I just wanted to pull something out of the girls that was more than basketball. When you have that love for each other, when you’re willing to run through a wall, you have what it takes to be a good teammate, a good sister. So, we started honoring one girl each week.”
That honor came with a post on the Panthers’ Facebook page, designation as the Trista Landrum Player of the Week and temporary custody of Trissy’s trophy.
“They didn’t really get anything but this,” Leslie said, holding the trophy. “But this is what they wanted.”
When it was suddenly gone, it was all Leslie wanted, too. She used a former co-worker’s key to get back into Chapman late one rainy night last summer, searching in vain for the trophy. She couldn’t tell Brenda. The thought of losing it made her physically ill. She’d fixate on it for days, forget it for days, and go right back to missing it again.
At one of the Vikings’ fall league games at Upward, she enlisted some help.
“She was showing me her senior pictures, we were laughing, and I asked her if she remembered the trophy,” Leslie said. “I told her I couldn’t find it. And I asked her, if she had time, if she could just look around for it.”
The text came the very next day. The reunion with the trophy had to wait a little while, in part because of game cancellations within the league and in part because Leslie insisted that she’d only take the trophy from Maddie in person. So, it sat on the Blackwells’ dinner table for a while. Maddie didn’t want it misplaced for even a second.
In the meantime, Leslie called Brenda.
“She immediately asked me what was wrong,” Leslie said with a laugh. “I said that I’d been so scared to tell her about it, but I could finally tell her now.”
Preserving a memory
Even the rescue of her trophy seems to have Trista’s memory all over it.
“I was talking with Cindy Yarbrough, who coached in our program at Chapman and who knew Trissy,” Leslie said. “She said Maddie’s spirit matches Trissy’s – free-spirited, funny, joyful. My grandma uses those same words to describe Trissy. It’s just kind of crazy how it’s all circled back around.
The similarities at work don’t end there. The sisterhood will continue at Spartanburg, where Leslie’s players have already asked about the trophy and celebrated its return with her. The sisterhood concept, though, is much older and deeper than that. Lewis said her girls, the 1989 team, embrace it as well.
“We’re in a group on Facebook, and whenever something happens, whenever somebody needs something, you can see it,” she said. “I love you, Sis. I’m praying for you. I’m thinking of you. That’s just the way they are. And it’s how Trista was.”
Some of them, too, have kept up with the saga of the trophy, and how it came to be back in proper hands. Pope-Black said she can’t even think about hers without memories of Trista.
“Our coach had that made for us,” she said. “For us to have something to share with each other. Knowing that it’s been passed down and protected and cherished makes it even more important. Trista is tied to that win and that team.”
Brenda said she’s happy that Trista’s memory is honored, and points out two things that she hopes others will keep in mind to further preserve her memory. The first is to be an advocate for themselves and for their health.
“Please check on your health,” she said. “Breast cancer, in a teenager… I just never in a million years thought that’s what was going on. You don’t know at any age how it can affect you, but you do know that if you catch it in time, you have a much better survival rate. Please, please, if you find something that you think is wrong, do not settle for somebody telling you that everything is fine without fully checking it out.”
The other is keeping Trista’s memory alive despite the passing of three decades.
“I tell people that even though it’s been 30-odd years, to me as a mother, it seems like yesterday,” she said. “It always seems like just yesterday. I think it would to any mother. And I’m so happy that she’s touched the lives of other young ladies through Leslie. And I hope that they’ll consider all those good qualities and, no matter what, just keep going and keep striving for that balance.”