When Jess Sims and Loretha Massey (now Jess Corkern and Loe Dunn) made the All-State basketball team as seniors at Delta High School in the state of Louisiana during the 1970-71 season, they were congratulated by their coach, Mary Dale Scoggins, on the bus ride home from their final game. There was no formal recognition. To the best of both Corkern and Dunn’s knowledge, there wasn’t even a story about their achievements in their hometown newspaper, the Bastrop Daily Enterprise.
Over the years, Corkern mentioned the fact that both she and her teammate earned All-State accolades, but George Sims thought his sister was exaggerating.
“He wanted proof, but we were never given any proof,” Corkern chuckled, noting that the state runner-up team didn’t have a postseason awards banquet. “George was in the Marine Corps and spent time in Okinawa, so he never saw me play. All those years, he didn’t believe that I had made All-State.”
Communicating with Scoggins via Facebook one day, Sims learned that his sister was indeed an All-State player.
“George mentioned it to Mary Dale Scoggins on Facebook and she said, ‘Yes, Jess and Loretha both made All-State,’” Corkern said, “and he says, ‘You mean it’s true?’”
Sims then took it upon himself to make sure that both Corkern and Dunn were properly recognized, albeit four-plus decades later. Sims, who lived in Mansfield, Mo. at the time but has since relocated to Landers, Wyo., presented Corkern with an All-State plaque on her 60th birthday. He also had a plaque made up for Dunn.
Needless to say, Corkern was floored by her brother’s creative gift.
“My brother is brilliant,” Corkern said. “I think he just wanted to make it a really fun birthday. When he gave me the plaque, you could tell he was proud he had thought of it.”
Corkern attended school at Mer Rouge through her sophomore year. While many of her classmates left for private schools when desegregation went into effect for the 1969-70 school term, Sims chose to remain in the public system. Corkern said athletics played a major role in her decision to go to the newly-established Delta High School, which was formed through the merger of Union, Mer Rouge, Collinston and Oak Ridge high schools.
“One of the reasons I stayed at Delta was that I wanted to play sports,” Corkern said. “The private schools offered sports, but they were just starting to get their feet wet.”
Attending Delta is a choice Sims has never regretted.
“I got to know girls I had competed against, plus the girls from Union High,” Corkern said. “I learned a lot about myself from working together with people I hadn’t known the year before. We grew so close.”
Besides growing as a person, Corkern says she became a better basketball player, as well.
“I thought I was an OK player, but being able to play with such wonderful athletes elevated my game,” Corkern said. “Loretha, my gosh! She could play. Then there was Barbara Johnson. We have several really good players. It was a lot of fun.”
As seniors, Corkern and Dunn helped Delta to a state runner-up finish.
“I remember going to state in Alexandria,” Corkern said. “There was this little bitty A-frame chapel in Alexandria and coach (Scoggins) crammed the whole team into the church and prayed for our safety.
“I think because the private schools were starting, nobody really knew if the public schools were going to succeed or not. I think we did something that maybe most of the adults didn’t think we could. I’m glad I was part of the Mer Rouge/Delta era.”
Corkern, the daughter of the late Hubert and Louise Sims, was also a standout softball player and competed in a third sport as a senior.
“They even established a tennis team for us my senior year,” Corkern said.
Upon graduating from Delta as salutatorian, Corkern enrolled at Northeast Louisiana University (now ULM). While traveling with a singing group, the Louisiana Moral & Civic Foundation, the following summer, Jess met her future husband, David Corkern. Jess transferred to LSU, where David was a member of the school’s marching band, the following year. She eventually earned her degree in music education.
Corkern has 30 years of experience as a teacher in Louisiana, California and Missouri. Now residing in Hannibal, Mo. — the childhood home of Mark Twain — she teaches music (grades kindergarten through 5) at Oakwood Elementary in Hannibal.
“Hannibal’s a great, small town with a population of about 18,000,” Corkern said. “It’s big enough to have all the conveniences you want, but still a small-time atmosphere. We’ve been here for about 15 years now. Growing up in Mer Rouge gave me an appreciation for small towns.”
Mer Rouge will always hold a special place in Corkern’s heart.
“We were blessed to live in Mer Rouge. It was a great place to be raised,” said Corkern, who grew up on the Bonne Idee. “The last time I was there, Johnny McAdams took me through the old high school. It was kind of sad (the old Mer Rouge High School is now vacant and decaying), but times change. Still, it was fun to revisit some old memories.”
Jess and David Corkern are the parents of two daughters, Jessica and Jana, and have five grandchildren.