|Birth: ||Feb. 4, 1913|
|Death: ||May 7, 2007|
Vyrah Mae Mann, 94, of Fordyce, died Monday, May 7, 2007 from complications of a recent surgery. Ms. Mann was born to a farm family in Piney Grove, a small community in Dallas County Arkansas on Feb. 4, 1913, and began attending Sparkman High School when Piney Grove's school was consolidated with Sparkman's Schools.
She was a retired bookkeeper from Union Planters Bank in Memphis, Tennessee, and a member of the Sardis Methodist Church. Ms. Mann was a past volunteer at the Shelby County Tennessee Library in Memphis, Tennessee, a member of the Dallas County Sports Hall of Fame where she was inducted in 2006, a member of the Daughters of the Confederate, an avid researcher of Genealogy for over 50 years, a lifetime member of the AARP, and the last living member of the Sparkman Sparklers Basketball Team which made headlines with numerous lopsided victories between 1927-30.
Ms. Mann, along with most of her Sparkler teammates, was offered basketball scholarships to Crescent College in Eureka Springs after winning games 164-9 over Malvern, 124-5 over Tomberlin, 106-5 over Cabot and 105-19 over El Dorado.
Many of her teammates left as they got married and prepared to begin families, but not Mann. At nearly 6 feet tall in her prime, she continued her basketball career well into the mid-1930s, finally leaving the court in about 1937.
Vyra probably played longer than any of the rest of them, said Jack Thomas, son of Mann's longtime friend and Sparkler teammate Cozie Fite Thomas Sorrells. I think they threw away the mold when they made Vyra.
Vyra had to ride the bus back and couldn't practice after school, said her sister, Mattie Cone. So, a cousin who played football and had to stay and practice told her that if she'd go down to the restaurant after her practice, he'd come give her a ride back from school.
Though girls basketball existed at some high schools and colleges as early as the turn of the century, Sparkman didn't begin a basketball program until the mid-1920s, when a teacher at Sparkman, Mattie DeLaughter, took an interest in teaching the girls how to play. Between 1927 and 1930, the Sparklers defeated every high school, college and independent team it faced in Arkansas.
The odds that a group of girls with that much talent coming from a small town at the same time are astronomical, Thomas said. Their team was almost mythical.
The Sparklers began playing on a dirt court outside the high school, but as the girls talent began to show, larger and larger crowds began attending the games.
Admission to Sparkman games was $2.50, about double the standard admission price for high school games in that era, but they sold out anyway, helping to finance the construction of an 800-seat gymnasium at Sparkman for the 1927-28 season.
By 1929, the Sparklers had become a household name throughout most of the state and had attracted national publicity as the Arkansas Democrat and Arkansas Gazette chronicled the Sparklers' season.
With all the publicity, everyone in Arkansas heard of us, Mann said in a 2003 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette article. We used to get fan mail and telegrams from all over.
In the 1920s, there was not a state tournament for women's basketball. However, the National Amateur Athletic Union Women's Basketball Tournament brought together the best high school, college and independent teams in the country.
A berth to the AAU tournament was just like a berth to the NCAA tournament, Mann said in 2003.
The Sparklers placed third and second, in 1929 and 1930, respectively, falling in their last game to the Sun Oilers of Dallas 27-24.
However, most of the team members were offered scholarships and went on to play basketball for Crescent College.
Mann eventually continued her career with college and semiprofessional teams in Tulsa, El Dorado and Memphis.
This happened right at the time of the Depression, Thomas said. Jobs were very hard to find, and the teams in those days said, If you'll come play for us, we'll get you a job. And they were going to school, so that was another perk.
Mann retired from Union Planters Bank in Memphis, where she managed bookkeeping. She moved to Fordyce in 1991 and lived with her sister, her sole survivor.
She was preceded in death by her parents, Walter Raney Mann and Ella Barnes-Mann; two brothers, Earl and Fred Mann; and a sister, Ada Mann-Kirkland.
Ms. Mann is survived by her sister, Mattie Mann Cone of Fordyce, Arkansas; four nieces, Earlene Branton of Lafayette, Louisiana, Patsy Johnson of Jacksonville, Arkansas, Nancy Hodnett of Fordyce, Arkansas, Barbara Bridges of Jena, Louisiana; and a loving and caring group of great-nieces and nephews.
Funeral services will be held at the Benton Funeral Home Chapel. Burial will be in Oakland Cemetery, with the Rev. Larry Johnson officiating. Memorials may be made to the Dallas County Sports Hall of Fame, or to the Oakland Cemetery Association. Arrangements by Benton Funeral Home of Fordyce. To sign the online register visit www.bentonfuneralhome.com.
Walter Raney Mann (1876 - 1953)
Ella Victoria Barnes Mann (1879 - 1963)
Oliver Earl Mann (1901 - 1997)*
Vyrah Mae Mann (1913 - 2007)
Mattie Lou Mann Cone (1921 - 2014)*
Maintained by: RS Green-Starnes
Originally Created by: Judy Benton Lamb
Record added: May 09, 2007
Find A Grave Memorial# 19309115