It was 20 years ago this winter that I accepted a job as the sports editor of the Herald-Leader newspaper in Siloam Springs.
I went up to northwest Arkansas from a similar position at the paper in the east Texas football hotbed of Kilgore. But among the many incentives which enticed me to move to Siloam Springs, there was one that might have stood out from the rest, at least when it came to the job itself.
Even before accepting the job, and while interviewing for the position, I was basically told, "By the way, we've got this outstanding high school girls basketball team up here and you should check out this one player, she's going to Arkansas."
At the time, I really didn't know much about the Siloam Springs Lady Panthers and this one player in particular. But I quickly did some research and found out that Siloam Springs, led by this player, had a great chance to win state for the 1998-99 season.
And I needed only the first time I saw Siloam play, once I made the move from Texas, and the first time I saw this player in action, to know how special she and her team was and still could be.
It was a mid-January home game against a solid Harrison squad. But it was all Lady Panthers as they won by about 30 points while lighting up the scoreboard, including that one player, who was the team's senior point guard.
And she was indeed impressive. She drove the lane and either went in for a layup or was able to easily pass the ball to her teammates. She pulled up and was able to hit shots from the outside. And her speed, wow.
Harrison didn't know what hit them that night. But they weren't the only ones to experience that feeling all season long.
As I went on to chronicle the Lady Panthers during their regular season stretch drive, it was apparent to me that I was witnessing greatness.
Siloam easily cruised to the conference title and went into the 4A state tournament ranked No. 1. But not just in 4A, but in the entire state.
Needless to say, there was a tremendous amount of pressure put on the Lady Panthers during their march to state. In their eyes, anything less than a state championship would be a tremendous disappointment.
But that point guard, one among a stellar group of seniors, wouldn't allow that to happen. Siloam rolled through the state tournament in Pine Bluff to get to the state title game, where the Lady Panthers took on a familiar foe in conference rival Alma.
The Airedalettes were no slouches, and they gave Siloam everything they had and had a few chances to pull off the win. But the Lady Panthers came up big down the stretch, with their senior point guard leading the way, and was able to capture the title.
And that put the finishing touches on the high school basketball career of India Lewis.
Most definitely, Arkansas has produced some tremendous high school athletes over the years. But you could arguably make the case that in the advent of the internet era, as well as the rise of cell phones and other future marvels of modern technology, that India Lewis may have been the first big statewide high school superstar in that certain era.
She had the skills. She had the game. She played with exuberance. She was a joy to be interviewed. She came from a great, hard-working family. And I guess you could say the fact that she did sign with Arkansas elevated her to a higher legendary status, even among fans of Siloam's rivals.
While she received attention for her basketball skills, Lewis also was a very good volleyball and softball player. In fact, she nearly helped the Lady Panther softball team to a state title of their own after winning it in basketball, but they came up short in the semifinals.
Lewis did go on to play at Arkansas, and while her college career may not have matched what she did in high school, she still had a solid career with the Lady Razorbacks and helped lead them to several NCAA tournament appearances.
After her playing days ended, she moved back home to Siloam to be with her family. She also found time to play plenty of travel softball and coached her nephew's youth baseball squad.
But just a few weeks ago, we were all shocked when we learned that this legendary athlete, the one that had the total package, the one that made things look easy at times, was diagnosed with breast cancer.
India, though, took it head-on like she was playing for another state championship. And we all thought she was going to overcome the odds, even when things took a turn for the worse in recent days.
However, the dreaded disease was too much to overcome. On Tuesday afternoon, Lewis passed away.
We'll still have the memories of her, whether it's on the basketball court or just playing a fun game of softball on a summer evening. I know I will still remember her personality and the way she loved to play, especially basketball.
In nearly 25 years in this business, India Lewis remains the best female athlete I've ever had the privilege to cover. There was no one like India, and she helped make my decision to go to Siloam Springs turn out to be one of the best I've ever made.
For that, I'm forever grateful.
Rest in peace, Indy. I love you, and those that got to know you feel the same way.