A Black History tribute to female coaches

Courtesy of Twitter Dawn Staley

Black History Month (BHM) 2020 will be history later this week, and with it our rich history and accomplishments, in sports or otherwise, go back into mothballs, and America goes back to business as usual in this regard. Just like Black people themselves, our history is not monolithic. Too often, however, our accomplishments are lumped together as such, especially by PWM (primarily White media). This is especially sad when done in sports.

At the beginning of the month, as a kick-off to BHM, someone tweeted Rutgers Coach C. Vivian Stringer’s legendary accomplishments. The Hall of Famer is the only college basketball coach, male or female, to take three different schools to championship games during her nearly five decades of success.

But if her skin color were a different hue, say White, her feats would roll off sports yakkers’ lips like salt off popcorn as they gush over Geno Auriemma and Mike Krzyzewski and other coaches’ accomplishments.

Stringer is women’s basketball’s fourth-winningest active coach, Rutgers’ all-time winningest coach, men or women, and the Big Ten’s winningest coach ever with over 1,000 wins in 49 years. 

“I don’t even focus on that,” Stringer said when we asked about her legacy after the Minnesota-Rutgers contest Feb. 2. But unlike the White reporters in the room, this reporter wanted her to speak on this and BHM in general.

“It’s unfortunate that we have to set aside a day or any day to recognize [Blacks],” she said. But Stringer praised the University of Minnesota’s BHM efforts, including playing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (the Negro National Anthem) at the game.

It’s fair to say that just two of us—she and I—knew the words or understood its significance to Black people. “You do that regularly?” the coach asked the primarily White press room.

“I think you at the University of Minnesota have done an outstanding job of celebrating and recognizing [BHM],” Stringer said, “far better than a lot of programs, unfortunately. A lot of people don’t do anything.”

Photo by Charles Hallman C. Vivian Stringer

There are not enough days, not enough print, electronic or World Wide Web space to introduce to some and fully educate others on all the Black accomplishments in sports. We, for starters, choose here to highlight past and present Black female coaches. Many besides Stringer have made coaching history and should be duly recognized as well.      

Carolyn Peck owns the Big Ten’s second-best all-time win percentage (.857). Stringer is ninth. Peck, a former WNBA coach and GM, remains the youngest coach ever (age 33) to win a Division I women’s basketball national title (Purdue, 1999). She is also the first Black female head coach to do so.

Dawn Staley’s South Carolina team has been atop the national polls for most of February. She is only the second Black female to win a national title (2017) and is the current U.S. Olympic women’s basketball coach.

Cheryl Miller was the first Black coach to lead her WNBA team to the finals. Her college playing days will be featured in a March 10 HBO documentary.

Stephanie Ready was the first female coach of a men’s pro basketball team in 2001 in the now NBA G-League.

Marian Washington was the first Black to be on a U.S. national team coaching staff (as an assistant in 1996). She won 560 games during her 31 years at Kansas.

We can confidently predict this Black list will grow much longer. “Hopefully it will be such that it is just an outstanding coach [not mentioning color]. That’s what we are hoping to get to,” Stringer said.