Sedona resident Karen Pelphrey fondly reminisces on how growing up in Paintsville, Ky., she was one of many die-hard fans of University of Kentucky Wildcats basketball, pretending to be various players she looked up to.
Little did she know that some years later she would become a model player for younger generations, a scorer who set records and helped turn around a struggling Marshall University program from 1983 to 1986.
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To this day, she still looks back upon those years as the best in her life.
“I honestly don’t remember not being happy, I really loved it,” Pelphrey says. “I dream about going back and playing again, that I have another game.”
In 2016 Pelphrey was inducted into the Southern Conference Hall of Fame, having enjoyed a tremendously successful collegiate career.
The list of honors and accolades is almost too long to list. With 2,746 points, she is the all-time leading scorer for men’s and women’s basketball at Marshall, and owns the fourth-highest mark in SoCon history with 2,163. Not to mention this was during a time in which there was no three-point line.
She was named SoCon Player of the Year after her senior season, when she was also a First Team All-American and her team won the SoCon regular season championship for the second year running. Her sophomore and junior seasons she earned Second Team All-American accolades, and was a three-time First Team All-SoCon player.
Marshall inducted Pelphrey into its hall of fame in 1992 and her No. 12 jersey was retired, too. The two seasons prior to her arrival, the team went 9-44; during her stint she helped the team win 65 games.
“I was inducted into the Hall of Fame [at Marshall] ... and that was really special,” Pelphrey says. “That’s something I’ll always remember.”
But her story begins long before that.
She first began to play in the third grade with her close neighbor Mark Green and his father, Julian, who she credits with teaching her a lot. They would play basketball and other sports together every day after school.
In eighth grade there was no girls basketball team, so she and a friend tried out for, and made, the boys team, much to the chagrin of a father. That father complained, which eventually saw her be moved to the junior varsity team at Johnson Central High School.
“It turned out to be a good thing because I started playing on the high school team,” Pelphrey says. “At that time it wasn’t accepted so much for a female to be on a male team.”
Pelphrey went on to become the all-time leading scorer for boys and girls basketball there and was highly-recruited to Marshall. Another good thing for the admitted “momma’s girl,” since it was a good academic school close to home.
Her memories of her time Marshall are only good ones.
“It was the best time of my life,” Pelphrey says. “I don’t remember ever complaining about going to class ... but the basketball part, it was a wonderful experience being around other people who we had all had something in common.”
Upon graduation, a league called the National Women’s Basketball Association was forming, and she was drafted in the second round to the Tennessee Tigercats, signing a contract for $18,000.
However, three months, a move to Knoxville and some preseason preparation later, the businessmen who funded the league pulled the plug, and she returned to Marshall where she finished her student teaching to get her schooling.
Pelphrey holds a bachelor’s degree in physical education and health and a master’s in special education.
Pelphrey, a highly-competitive, caring and motivated person, admits that for most of her life she battled depression and anxiety. That, combined with the passing of her father, brought her to a low point, but sports and personal training, which she has done since 2002, have helped her get through those struggles.
“I really enjoy the working one-on-one with people and being in this type of environment, because I could just live in this place because I love it so much,” Pelphrey says.
Living in Sedona since 2012, Pelphrey taught at various schools in the area, and now works at Snap Fitness in Sedona and Cottonwood. The recreational activities in Sedona are a big plus for her, too.
“It’s a beautiful place to live and it offers a lot of outdoor activities for me that I really enjoy,” Pelphrey says. “I’m very active with working out, mountain biking and really enjoy the environment here.”
Her favorite part about being inducted into the 2016 SoCon class: So, too, was NBA superstar Stephen Curry, a record-setting scorer whom she looks up to today.
“Oh my gosh, that is the best thing about it,” Pelphrey says. “I was so excited about that. That’s really an honor, my name even being mentioned with his name.”