Woodruff’s Rice, Boiling Springs’ Foster Look Back at Legendary Battles from Hall of Fame Careers
By Garrett Mitchell, Staff Writer
Sharon Rice-Robinson and Sheila Foster were giants on the basketball court. They also both have giant personalities. Talking to them you would be hard-pressed to find two nicer ladies. Talk to them about basketball and they will regale you of stories from their glory days. Ask them about playing one another, and they are quick to tell you how good the other was.
In the mid 1970’s, Rice-Robinson and Foster were the two titans of Spartanburg County women’s basketball, two elite centers whose head-to-head battles were must-see and produced tremendous match-ups inside the paint.
Foster, the all-time leading scorer and rebounder in school history for the Boiling Springs Lady Bulldogs and future collegiate Hall of Famer, and Rice Robinson, Woodruff’s all-time rebounds leader and seventh all-time in points scored, were the perfect combination of size, power, and athleticism.
“It was very intense,” recalled Rice-Robinson. “We went at each other every time. It was Sheila versus Sharon. They would try to get the ball into her and my teammates would try to get the ball into me. We just battled it out, one on one.”
Foster’s memory of those match-ups is equally as vivid.
“We played good teams back then, and playing against Sharon and against Woodruff, she had always been a big girl,” she said. “My motto has always been, when I play against bigger girls than me, I have to outrun them so that’s what I tried to do. But Sharon was a great player and once she got the ball on the block you couldn’t even see around her. She was physical and tall.”
Rice-Robinson and Foster were a year apart in age, with Sharon’s senior season coming in 1976-77 when Foster was a junior. Woodruff and Boiling Springs, and by extension Rice-Robinson and Foster, met head-to-head six times over the three overlapping seasons of their career.
Those games, as Foster remembers, were good-natured but hard-fought with neither player willing to concede an inch to the other.
“It was intense,” said Foster. “Neither team tried to switch (defensively) so it was just me and Sharon going at one another. She loved to score and so did I. She would score, and I would score. That’s just the way it was.”
Boiling Springs being the larger school, Rice-Robinson said there were bragging rights attached to each game, personally and for the team. The focus, she said, was clear.
“We knew what we had to do,” she said. “They knew the same thing. One of (Sheila’s) teammates was my roommate in college, but we had some battles and if I could do it again I certainly would.”
In their six head-to-head meetings, the results were as even as their will to win, with their respective teams each earning three victories. Rice-Robinson averaged 13.8 points and 15 rebounds per game during those match-ups with her best performance coming during the 1976-77 season with 30 points and 25 rebounds in a 62-55 Boiling Springs victory.
It was gamesmanship at the highest level, and a sense of pride for two of the state’s best players.
“I took pride in my defense against her,” said Rice-Robinson. “I wanted to stop her from scoring. But she was doing the same thing to me. We made each other better players.”
“They don’t play the game today like we played back then,” Foster said. “We were more physical. We played smarter. We played harder, and I wish players today could get to that point, the way Sharon and I played.”
Both Rice-Robinson and Foster went on to make tremendous impacts after their high school careers as well. Rice-Robinson played collegiately at USC Spartanburg and the 6-foot-1 inch Foster would go on to become a four-year starter, an American Olympian,
and a Hall of Famer for the University of South Carolina. She remains the Gamecocks’ all-time leading scorer and rebounder. Both players were long-ago enshrined in their respective high schools’ athletic hall of fames.
Greatness brings about greatness, and for Rice-Robinson and Foster, their time playing against one another over 40 years ago helped mold them as players. It is something neither will ever forget.
“Not only was I making her better, but Sharon was making me better,” Foster said. “When I play against players like her, that’s what helped my career and got me going down at Carolina.”
Rice-Robinson added, “I loved the game, and I taught my daughter to love the game also. To accomplish what I did in my career at Woodruff against great players like Sheila, like I said, I would do it all again.”