HALL OF FAME: Watson was a prep basketball phenom, successful coach

This is the first of a series of four stories focusing on the 2024 inductees into the Stanly County Sports Hall of Fame.

While Caitlin Clark rightly dominates the headlines of today’s women’s basketball news, many Stanly sports fans may be unaware of a female athlete who dazzled followers of the local high school hoops circuit nearly 70 years ago.

Frances Caudle Watson is retired and residing in the Richfield community. But before embarking on a long career in public education, she was arguably the most dominating women’s high school basketball player ever to play in the old Stanly County Conference.

Watson, who played at Richfield High in the pre-consolidation days of Stanly County Schools, finished off her four years of high school basketball with a superb senior campaign during the 1955-56 season. In conference play that season, Watson scored 548 points, an average of 34 per game, before tallying 77 points in the conference tournament. The result was a 30 points-per-game individual average in a time when women’s’ basketball team scores seldom topped the 40-point mark.

Following graduation, Watson continued her basketball career at Pfeiffer, and later (along with brothers Boyce and George) contributed to endow a memorial scholarship at the school in honor of her parents, Valda and T.H. Caudle. But it was afterwards that she made her greatest contribution, in which she touched the lives of countless young people as a teacher and coach.

Upon graduation from Pfeiffer, she served as the physical education teacher at several elementary schools before eventually accepting a position at East Rowan High School. While there, she coached three sports at the school, starting the school’s volleyball program, and coaching basketball and softball as well. She was especially successful as a softball coach, during which the Mustang girls were tagged with the moniker “Fran’s Fillies” by the Salisbury Post. Her teams captured South Piedmont Conference championships in 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983 and 1985. In addition, she was named South Piedmont Conference Coach of the Year in 1979, 1982, 1983 and 1985, and was honored as the NCHSAA Women’s Coach of the Year in 1986.

Watson remains active, participating in the Uwharrie Senior Games and North Carolina Senior Games in various sports. She also spoke about her life experiences in the fields she loves.

When asked what sparked her interest in sports, Watson replied, “I was born the youngest of eight children, and my entire family was and are huge sports fanatics. All of my siblings played and excelled in sports at Richfield and several went on to play at the college. I was inspired by my older siblings who made the SNAP news weekly.”

Watson also noted that older brother Boyce Caudle, who served as her high school coach at Richfield, was a key to her success.

“He was the most influential coach I had, but there were many others as well,” she said, naming Larry Watson, Stanly County Sports Hall of Fame member C.P. Misenheimer and former Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski as others.

“Sports taught me the value of dedication, determination, persistence and a positive attitude,” she continued. “I have learned to always give 100% and then just keep digging down deep to give just a little more … and that’s not just in sports, but in all things in life.”

The current state of sports has positives and negatives, according to Watson.

“The level of sports competition on all levels today is amazing,” she observed. “That being said, the number of social outlets and social media distractions offer a significant challenge for today’s athletes. The distractions and temptations of today’s world as compared to when I was growing up as an athlete is a problem for many athletes today … sports was the social outlet for me … it was what I ate, lived and breathed. Many great athletes have come short of their goals due to being derailed by these distractions and temptations. Hats off to those great players that do achieve their goals and make it to the top today despite it all … this is a very big accomplishment.”

Watson is among four inductees of the Class of 2024 Stanly County Sports Hall of Fame. She will be honored at the annual induction event at 6 p.m. June 3 at Pfeiffer University’s Merner Gym. Tickets to the event can be purchased at Starnes-Bramlett Jewelers, Uwharrie Dash, Albemarle Parks and Recreation, Locust City Hall and Oakboro Parks and Recreation.