Thursday, February 28, 2008

The lady can talk, and coach

Reaching 800 wins in any sport, at any level is worth noting. Rutgers University Head Women's Basketball Coach C. Vivian Stringer reached this historic milestone Wednesday, when her team defeated DePaul.

Only seven others, male or female, have posted as many career victories: Stringer, who coached at three different schools -- Cheyney (Pa.), Iowa and Rutgers, is the first Black coach to do so. Only the late Clarence "Big House" Gaines have more wins -- he earned his 828 wins, however, at one school (Winston-Salem).

I first met Stringer back in the mid-1980's when she was coaching at Iowa. I was on her campus, covering the Hawkeyes-Minnesota contest as a radio reporter. It was just after the passage of Proposition 86, which many coaches felt was discriminatory toward future Black student-athletes coming into college. Both John Thompson and John Chaney were the most outspoken against it.

At the end of her post-game conference, I asked Stringer's opinion on the subject. About twenty minutes later, she still was talking about the injustice of the new rule. I got enough sound bytes to last a week's worth of sportscasts.

It was then I learned about her passion, not only about basketball, but life in general.

From then on, I always made a point to speak with her, even if it was general chit-chatting, and Stringer always was gracious, whether her team won or lost. During her Iowa days, her teams rarely lost to the Gophers.

I missed her when she left Iowa, but I truly understood: her longtime husband and father of their three children suddenly died during the 1992-93 season. Stringer left for the East Coast, and have been at Rutgers ever since.

A few years ago, our paths again crossed: I was in New York for the WNBA All-Star Game, and I was working on a future story on the lack of Black female head coaches.

While in the hallways of the Garden after the game, I just happened to run into the coach, who was there to see Cappie Pondexter, a former player, and one of only two rookies selected as an All-Star. I took the opportunity to again ask her thoughts on a subject not often asked, and can be somewhat controversial.

Save for a few minutes, when Stringer asked me for time as she wanted to introduce a couple of her present players to Pondexter, the coach gave me more than enough information to write a series of articles on the subject.

The lady can talk.

Congratulations to Stringer. I am rooting for her Rutgers to get back to the Final Four this season, hopefully go one step further, and win it all -- the Scarlet Knights finished runners-up to Tennessee, a day before Don Imus' racially and sexually derisive comments went over the nation's airwaves.

Stringer and her players handled the incident and its aftermath, with class.

The lady has class.

She also can coach.

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