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Pam Parsons Talks About Her Public Disgrace and Life After USC Basketball

March 31, 1996

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) _ Once, Pam Parsons stood on the edge of success with the South Carolina women’s basketball team.

Her 1980 team had finished third in the nation and the 1981 team was ranked second nationally and undefeated when it all came crashing down. Parsons was caught having a love affair with one of her players.

``I want to apologize to all those players I hurt, and I want to apologize to their parents,″ she said in an interview with The Charlotte Observer Sunday. ``They gave me their most prized possessions _ their daughters. Those girls had hopes and dreams, and I let them down.″

Parsons’ relationship with then 17-year-old Tina Buck tarred the entire sport, coaches say.

``Pam Parsons left a cloud over women’s basketball,″ said North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell, incoming president of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association.

Coaches said Parsons made the stereotypes seem true _ that homosexuals pervade women’s basketball, that they are untrustworthy and that they entice impressionable young people.

``Pam Parsons created fear because she represented the worst stereotype,″ Central Connecticut State coach Brenda Reilly said. ``But she really was the extreme.″

Parsons, 48, now lives in Atlanta with Buck, 33. The couple gets by on $15,000 a year.

In her day, Parsons was one of the best. She went 49-31 in her first coaching job at Old Dominion from 1974 to 1977, but she agonized over her sexuality.

``It was a terrible struggle,″ she says. ``I was dating men, but I almost always had a secret relationship going with a woman.″

After taking over the Lady Gamecocks, she went 51-20 in her first two years. In 1980, the unranked Gamecocks fought their way into the Final Four _ ultimately finishing third in the nation with a 30-6 record.

That same year, Parsons met Buck in an Atlanta bar. Parsons, then 32, says she didn’t know Buck played high school basketball or that she was 17.

On Nov. 2, 1980, the couple got caught. A private detective documented that Buck had spent a night at Parsons’ house _ violating recruiting rules because Buck was considered a visiting high school recruit.

Parsons says she admitted her affair after a confrontation with the school’s athletic director but still offered Buck a scholarship.

``If I had it to do over, I would have gone to a different college,″ Buck said. ``That way, we could have continued seeing each other, and maybe all the crazy stuff wouldn’t have happened.″

With Buck, who had a 30-point high school average, the Lady Gamecocks won their first seven games in 1981. But in December, a player told her mother she’d seen Parsons and Buck embrace and kiss.

On Dec. 31, 1981, Parsons resigned, citing health problems after a confrontation with South Carolina’s assistant athletic director.

Sports Illustrated reported that Parsons was a lesbian in 1982, and she sued for $75 million. She and Buck testified in 1984 that they weren’t homosexual or intimate.

Then Babs DeLay, a disc jockey from Salt Lake City, testified that Parsons was a card-carrying member of the Puss ‘n’ Boots gay bar there and that the couple had visited 20 to 30 times.

``That’s the one thing people ask me most: Why did you lie?″ Parsons says. ``All I can say is I wasn’t thinking clearly.″

The couple pleaded guilty to perjury and spent 109 days in a minimum-security prison in Lexington, Ky.

Since then, they’ve worked as house painters, waitresses and yard keepers, making less than $5,000 some years. As for basketball, Parsons says she’d like to coach or help market the women’s professional basketball league _ ``if they’ll have me.″

She believes she lost her way because she felt forced to lie about her sexuality.

``I finally found what I was looking for _ peace,″ she said. ``I’m not afraid of being found out. I don’t have to lie or concoct an image. It’s an amazing space to be in. It is something I’ve wanted more than a national championship.″

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