From Miami to Poplarville: Hall of Famer wished PRCC was 4-year college

From Miami to Poplarville: Hall of Famer wished PRCC was 4-year college

POPLARVILLE, Miss. — Pearl River was supposed to be just a quick detour on the route to the Division I level for Norma Noel, but it quickly became so much more. 

An NJCAA First Team All-American and one of the best women's basketball players to ever suit up for the Wildcats, Noel will be inducted into the Pearl River Community College Athletics Hall of Fame presented by Keith's Superstores on July 28. 

Joining Noel in the Class of 2023 are baseball's Jim Murphy and Dr. Thomas Royals and football's Craig Franklin. The 2023 recipient of the Spirit of a Wildcat Award is Francis Herrin.

"I was so excited to receive the phone call that I was selected. It's truly an honor," Noel said. "I felt like that when I left the school, it was all just in the past. When I received the call, I was jumping and screaming. I was happy that someone acknowledged what I did on the court. I loved the game and just wanted to play. It's such a blessing."

Noel was also excited to prove to her children that she was indeed a standout on the court in her time.

"My kids both play basketball, and they always mess with me and say that I don't know how to play basketball, so I was able to prove it to them," Noel said. "When I got the official letter, I handed it to them and had them read it. My family has always said it's legit if it was on paper." 

Originally from Miami, Florida, Noel was a highly accomplished basketball player at Edison High School. Standing at 5-foot-11 as a senior, the forward, along with her teammate (future WNBA star) Marie Ferdinand, decided that they were going to take their talents to LSU.  

When it was nearing the time to move to Louisiana, Noel received a call from legendary Tiger head coach Sue Gunter who encouraged her to make a stop at Pearl River and then transfer to LSU the following year. At the time, the Tigers rostered former Wildcat standout, Elaine Powell. The connection was enough for Noel to give The River a shot. 

Having never visited Pearl River before signing and coming from a city the size of Miami, Noel didn't know what to expect when she was headed to Poplarville for the first time. 

"It was certainly a bit of a culture shock. I couldn't believe it when I got into town, and there wasn't a traffic light," she said. "It was so small, but I quickly realized how friendly everyone was. Everyone knew each other on a first-name basis which I liked."

The adjustment period didn't exist for Noel, as she and the team connected pretty quickly. 

"I was just happy to get to Pearl River and have a chance to play. There were people from all these different places, and we all came together and had one goal. We all adapted well and quickly.

Noel was an instant difference maker for coach Polly Kirkland's Wildcats in 1997-98, helping lead the program to a 17-10 record as a freshman while averaging 16.5 points and seven rebounds.

Noel's sophomore year was a little more challenging for Noel — not from a playing standpoint, but because she was called upon to be a leader. 

"I had others to look up to and help guide me when I first got there. During my sophomore year, I had to be the role model," she said. "I didn't think I was ready for that role then, but I had teammates behind me pushing me to do it. I knew the team believed in me. They probably believed in me more than I believed in myself."

Embracing her leadership role, Noel turned in another dominant season as a sophomore. She led the Wildcats to an outstanding 22-7 record, averaging 17 points and 6.7 rebounds while battling a stress fracture in her foot. After the season ended, Noel received the news that she had been named a First Team All-American by the NJCAA. 

"I was happy when coach Kirkland told me I was named an All-American," Noel said. "I was pretty team-oriented, so I worried more about our team's success."

Noel recalled some of her favorite memories from her time as a Wildcat, and the one that stuck out the most was PRCC's battles with Copiah-Lincoln.

"I'll always remember that every time we played Co-Lin, it was memorable," Noel said. "I remember all of us getting together and just talking about how we were going to beat them. We were most excited to play them."

After her time at Pearl River ended, Noel and fellow All-American teammate Jessica Shanklin picked Houston as the next step in their basketball careers. For Noel, leaving Pearl River certainly was challenging.

"I transferred to Houston, but I cried. I did not want to leave Pearl River. Coming from Miami, I wasn't familiar with the junior college system," she said. "I thought I could stay for four years if I wanted to. Coach Kirkland explained that I had to leave, and I asked her if they could make an exception for me. I would've stayed all four years if it was possible."

The small-town life was what made Poplarville and Pearl River special to Noel.

"Miami is such a big city that no one notices or sees you. At Pearl River, people acknowledged and appreciated what you did." Noel said. Some people spoke to you that you didn't even know. They waved and spoke. You didn't get that where I was from. I really adapted and latched onto that.

"It grew on me so much that I still wave at people and talk to people that I don't know because of my time in Poplarville. It was such a family feel. I didn't miss a beat leaving home because of how good the family environment was."

After her time at Houston, Noel played semi-pro basketball for the Houston Jaguars for two years. She then moved back to Florida and began working for the Department of Children and Families.

Pearl River Community College recently started a tradition of honoring past championship teams at its annual Athletics Hall of Fame banquet. This year, PRCC is recognizing five championship anniversaries.

This year's recognized teams will be the 2002-03 women's basketball team that won the Region 23 championship; the 2002-03 men's basketball team that won the MACJC title; the 2012-13 men's and women's soccer teams that won both the MACJC and Region 23; as well as the 2012-13 men's basketball team that claimed the MACJC Championship.

Members of the championship teams who would like to join in the festivities are asked to contact PRCC Coordinator of Alumni Services, Mary Alice Chandler, at or 601-403-1193 to receive 25% off their tickets.

Tickets for the banquet and golf tournament are ONLY available in advance, either by visiting or by contacting Coordinator of Alumni Services Mary Alice Chandler at or 601-403-1193.

Tickets purchased between July 1-13 are $150. No tickets will be sold after July 13. Guests will not be able to purchase tickets at the door.

The PRCC Athletics Hall of Fame golf tournament will once again feature a four-person scramble format. Teams of four are $600.

The number of golf teams is limited and often sells out quickly. Ensure your team gets to chase glory and compete for bragging rights by registering early.

Sponsorship packages are available for both the banquet and golf tournament.

The banquet has two tiers of sponsorships, the $2,500 Maroon Sponsorship and the $5,000 Gold Sponsorship.

The Maroon Sponsorship includes eight banquet tickets, 20 beverage tickets, two rooms Friday night at Hollywood Casino and advertising at the banquet; the Gold Sponsorship features one four-person golf team, four rooms Friday night at Hollywood Casino, eight banquet tickets, 20 beverage tickets and advertising at the banquet.

There are several sponsorship opportunities for the golf tournament as well. PRCC is offering $100 hole sponsorships (which include a 24x18 sign next to the tee box), $300 longest drive or closest to the pin sponsorships, $500 awards ceremony sponsorship and $500 beverage sponsorship.

PRCC is also accepting items for the silent auction and food for the golf tournament.

To secure your sponsorship package or donate to the event, contact Mary Alice Chandler at or 601-403-1193.

Know a former Wildcat who you believe should be considered in the future? Nominate by visiting or visiting and clicking the nomination form link at the top of the page.

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