The ‘First Lady’ Of Basketball

By Gary Norris Gray
Updated: December 1, 2008

CALIFORNIA — Last weekend, the Rutgers University women’s basketball team landed at Oakland International Airport. They would be in the Bay Area for four days.

The undefeated and third-ranked Lady Knights took the floor at Newell Court at Hass Pavilion to battle another undefeated tean, the seventh-ranked Lady Golden Bears of California.

Situated in the front row seat, I could see how this team won the Big East championship, reached the Sweet 16, and also the championship game against the Lady Vols of Tennessee two springs ago.

On this night, the Lady Golden Bears simply outplayed and out hustled the Lady Knights. That does not happen often but it did in this game. Cal prevented Rutgers’ team defense from setting up.

They bottled up All-Big East standouts Epiphanny Prince and Kia Vaughn. However, the Golden Bear home crowd was impressed by the many rainbow jumpers from the key, the point, and the foul line by freshman April Sykes.

The Golden Bears would beat Rutgers by 48 points. Other Big East teams must be wondering how did that happen? Two nights later, the Lady Scarlet Knights played the Stanford Cardinal at Maples Pavilion in Palo Alto.

Many fans who follow college women’s basketball thought that after the dreadful game in Berkeley, The Lady Cardinals would be in for a long night. It just did not happen!

Prince and Vaughn tried to carry the Lady Knights, but it seemed like they ran out of steam in the middle of the first half in Palo Alto, Rutgers lost again by 40 points.

Apparently Stanford had scouted the game at Berkeley because they shut down Sykes. The Lady Knights were glad to leave the Golden State after the weekend drubbings by Cal-Berkeley and Stanford.

It is early in the season and the First Lady of Basketball will have this young Rutgers team for conference play in January. The Lady Scarlet Knights are led by a very strong leader, head coach C. Vivian Stringer.

Two years ago, Coach Stringer weathered the storm of verbal attacks by then WFAN-AM DJ Don Imus. Stringer and her team responded with class and grace.

She was diplomatic and used finesse in her response to the derogatory remarks directed at her Rutgers women’s basketball team. Her team followed Ms. Stringer’s guidance and leadership meeting with Mr. Imus.

Take a look at the history of this insightful female leader.

30 years ago in Northeastern Pennsylvania, Cheyney State College (now University), a predominately African American College, hired Stringer to coach their Women’s basketball team. This was her first head coaching job.

During her tenure, she brought notoriety and fame to Cheyney State, because this was the first predominated African American college women’s team to play in the NCAA’s women’s title game. Coach Stringer brought Cheyney into the limelight, as fell to Louisiana Tech in the final.

In 1971, Stringer started her voyage across America’s basketball courts. It all began in the Eastern countryside of the Pennsylvania Mountains, to the cornfields of Central Iowa, with her last stop in the inner city streets of North-Central New Jersey.

Wherever this coach went, there was clear evidence of improvement in the skills of the women’s basketball programs. She improved the Lady Wolves of Cheyney, the Lady Hawkeyes of Iowa, and Lady Scarlet Knights of Rutgers.

It has been said that she is responsible for all of these schools being placed on the sports map. This year is her 13th season at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

Back in February, she gained her 800th career victory. Only three other female head coaches have accomplished this achievement — Tennessee’s Pat Summitt, Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer, and Jody Conradt of Texas have all reached that magic number.

Coach Ms. Stringer was also on the staff of the 2004 Olympic Woman’s Basketball Team. It is apparent that coach Stringer heeded the advice of her old friend and colleague, Hall of Famer John Chaney of Temple University.

A bond of friendship was formed when both coached at Cheyney State.

The Lady Knights have become a defensive vice-grip on the basketball floor. They invoke the zone trap defense, and many Big East teams were not fast enough to push the ball up court.

This caused many turnovers, which the Lady Knights quickly turned them into Rutgers lay-ups. The record shows that the Lady Knights have kept their opponents at 54 points per game in the past.

Mrs. Stringer is the only female coach to take three different schools to the NCAA Women’s Final Four, a feat that has never been accomplished by any male coach. It has been said that this feat may not ever be repeated again.

Mrs. Stringer has several NCAA Final Four, Sweet Sixteen, and Elite Eight, tournament appearances. A mother of three adult children, and she is also the mother of over 300 young women basketball players which includes Cheyney State, Iowa, Rutgers University and numerous Olympic teams.

She has been named national coach of the year three times and in 2001, was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. Three years later, Stringer was inducted into the Black College Coaches Hall of Fame.

Coach Stringer has experienced many personal challenges, many trials and tribulations. She had to cope with the untimely death of her husband, provide consistent personal care for her older disabled daughter, and the near death of her youngest son who was in an automobile accident.

Through all of this, Coach Stringer has stood the test of time. We applaud her, salute her, and consider her OUR FIRST LADY OF THE HARDWOODS.