The NCAA Women’s Final Four was first staged in 1982. Louisiana Tech was its first champion, and they were featured on Page 68 of this year’s game program.
The 1982 game was nationally televised and played at Norfolk, Va. with over 9,500 in attendance. Quick—who did LA Tech defeat 76-62 in that first NCAA women’s title game? Answer—Cheyney State College, now Cheyney University, located in Pennsylvania.
Cheyney was and still remains the only HBCU school to play for an NCAA Division I basketball championship. However, that piece of history, the school, and its successful women’s basketball team are rarely discussed as regular Final Four lore.
The MSR last weekend talked to three members of the 1982 Cheyney team who were in town for this year’s Final Four games: Ann Strong, Yolanda Laney, and Debra Walker.
“It was overall a good, good experience,” recalled Laney, who scored 10 points and grabbed four rebounds against LA Tech.
A brief recap of Cheyney’s road to the Final Four: They defeated Auburn, North Carolina State, and Kansas State, then Maryland in the semifinals. The title game loss, however, snapped a 23-game winning streak to finish 28-3.
“We were considered the underdog all through my four years at Cheyney State,” continued Laney.
Walker said being seen as underdogs were “from others’ points of view. I think playing [in front of] hostile environments made us stronger, made us hungrier, and kept us more focused.”
Their coach: C. Vivian Stringer, hired in 1971 to coach women’s basketball and teach health, physical education, organization, and administration; she also volunteered as volleyball coach. She is now at Rutgers, in the Hall of Fame with over 1,000 wins.
“She was a phenomenal coach, phenomenal woman,” added Strong on Stringer. “She wanted what she wanted when she wanted, and she pretty much got what she wanted out of the players.”
All three players told us they wanted to play for Stringer—she and Kansas’ Marian Washington were at the time the only Black female head coaches in big-time women’s hoops. “I was impressed with the style of basketball that the team played,” noted Walker. “I was impressed with a lot of things that she said.”
Lacey added that she originally had wanted to attend Kansas, but once she visited the Cheyney campus, attending the HBCU was a no-brainer: “Definitely the best decision I made my whole life,” she said proudly.
Stringer left a lasting impression on these three. “We always follow Coach Stringer’s teams, from Cheyney to Iowa to Rutgers,” noted Lacey.
The HOF coach put together a tough schedule for her Cheyney teams, who regularly played much bigger schools such as Rutgers, Penn State and Maryland. “We were always ready,” said Walker, who posted a double-double against LA Tech (12 points, 11 rebounds). What also made the Cheyney women stronger was the Cheyney men—the two teams practiced together.
The late John Chaney was the men’s coach. “We started the season…competing against the men’s practices all throughout the season,” recalled Laney. “Competing against them prepared us for every game.”
Last month the Cheyney 1982 team was honored back on campus. Many members were there, as was their coach.
Now, 40 years later, they want their history to be known. An application has been submitted to induct the entire 1982 Cheyney team into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, hopefully as soon as 2023.
“I think all that needs to be shared,” said Walker. “This team as a whole needs to go into the Naismith Hall of Fame.”
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.