Maxine Beard’s journey at Tennessee State has been anything but traditional.
Beard, a native of St. Louis, Mo., was a two-year captain on the varsity team at Hazelwood Central HS. Once she graduated, she set her sights on college. After gaining some interest from smaller schools in the St. Louis area to play basketball, Beard ultimately decided to put her basketball pursuit on hold and accept an academic scholarship to attend her father’s alma mater, Tennessee State University. She chose mechanical engineering as her major.
Although she didn’t receive a scholarship to play basketball on the next level, the desire remained.
“My Father told me to stay in shape so if the opportunity presented itself, I’d be ready,” commented Beard. “After hearing about tryouts, I went out for the team and later one of the coaches asked me to be a practice player.”
Beard, however, would become more than a practice player. She became a member of the team. She only saw action in four contests that season but her energy and team spirit set her apart. Her commitment to encouraging her teammates and keeping the bench lively was contagious. She was always the loudest one on the sideline, cheering on her teammates.
One year later, the Tennessee State women’s basketball team did the extraordinary.
The Lady Tigers capped off a record-breaking season with an OVC tournament championship victory over defending champ UT Martin to claim the title. TSU earned a berth to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 20 years. There was only one small hitch in this story… Maxine Beard wasn’t a member of that team. Before the season began, the coaching staff decided not to invite any walk-ons on the team that year.
That decision didn’t deter Beard's support for the team as she attended every home game and even traveled to some road contests. She cheered on the team just as hard as she would have if she was sitting on the bench. And she was right there when the Lady Tigers held up the OVC trophy.
“I felt like I was meant to be on the team, even if I wasn’t at the time. Then having those relationships I built my freshman year just made me want to stay around and support.”
In 2015-16, Beard returned to the court as a Lady Tiger. She played in 22 games and stepped into the role of starting point guard the final eight games of the season.
As a redshirt junior, Beard saw an expanded role on the team. She played in all 26 contests and made 11 starts. The 5-5 guard averaged 19.7 minutes per game.
Now entering her final season on the hardwood, she is focused on having a successful senior season and helping the team in any way she can.
“This season I want to be able to be a leader for this team, especially since our team is so young. I want to make sure I’m being consistent on and off the court, so they have someone to follow.”
With 10 newcomers, including eight freshmen joining this year’s team, Beard understands the responsibility she will have as one of the more experienced players on the roster. She is the lone senior on this year’s squad.
“I was here all summer. I made sure I was in the gym working to make myself better. I was in the weight room getting stronger. I also read leadership books since I knew I would be in this position.”
Practice began last week for the Lady Tigers and the coaches have already acknowledged Beard for her leadership. She was named the leader of the day after the first practice and continues to be vocal on the court.
Five years ago, Beard came to Tennessee State unsure of whether or not basketball would be in her future. Today she is a senior leader for the Lady Tiger program and will have an important role this season. Her dedication and persistence is a testament to the adage: Never give up.
The Lady Tigers open the season on Nov. 10 at Memphis.