Sistahood offers support in a competitive business

Because of the growing but still low number of Black female college basketball head coaches, a sistahood—a support lifeline whether formal or informal—does exist. For many HCs, this is as important as wins and losses.

“You carry a lot of burden on your shoulders when you get those head coaching opportunities,” Chicago State’s Andrea Williams told us after her team’s loss on Dec. 12 at Minnesota. The Cougars left the Western Athletic Conference after the 2021-22 season and are playing an independent schedule this season.  

Williams, a 27-year veteran coach, was named CSU head coach on July 1. “I’m fortunate enough to be able to have this be my second go-round as a Division I head coach,” stressed Williams, who was U.S. Air Force Academy head coach for six seasons (2010-15).

The sistahood didn’t exist when C. Vivian Stringer started coaching back at Cheyney State in 1971, noted Rutgers Coach Coquese Washington, who’s also in her second go-around as an HC. “I think one of the things that she’s constantly talked about to the Black female head coaches around the country is encouraging us to support each other,” recalled Washington, now in her first season as Stringer’s successor at Rutgers. 

“She [Stringer] talks about how when she was starting out in coaching, she didn’t have a network and she didn’t have a [female] support system. She was by herself.”

The now-retired Stringer is “a trailblazer for us,” added Kentucky Coach Kyra Elzy. “People like her blazed the way and laid the foundation for us to be in this situation, and it is a sisterhood.”

South Carolina’s Dawn Staley before last season further cemented the importance of sistahood when she sent each Black woman Division I head coach a piece of the Gamecocks’ 2017 NCAA championship net, keeping alive a tradition first started by Carolyn Peck, the first Black woman to win an NCAA title (Purdue, 1999). 

Peck later gifted a piece of the winning net to Staley, who kept it in her wallet until she won her first title in 2017. This spring in Minneapolis, Staley became the first Black coach ever, female or male, to win two national titles in basketball.

Marisa Moseley (Wisconsin), Amaka Agugua-Hamilton (Virginia), and Syracuse’s Felisha Legette-Jack were among the more than 40 sistahs who got a strand of Staley’s net. They shared their thoughts in a piece last March in The Undefeated (now Andscape).

“It just kind of linked everybody together,” said Agugua-Hamilton.

Rene Haynes, Long Island University: “It’s a sign of strength… It’s a sign of togetherness.  It’s a sign of committed women who are here to mentor younger coaches as well as our student-athletes.”

“Dawn went though the door and propped it open. She propped it open for people like us to come behind her,” added Vanessa Blair-Lewis, George Mason.

Legette-Jack, now in her fourth HC stint but her first at her alma mater—her other stops were Indiana (2006-12), Buffalo (2012-22) and Hofstra (2002-06)—noted, “Don’t assume because I got a second chance that you’re going to get one.”

Kentucky Associate HC Niya Butts is a former head coach at Arizona (2008-16). “We compete and we’re competitive as coaches. It is a sister who sees another Black woman on the sideline.” As much as she and her fellow sistahs root for each other, “We understand this is a tough [business],” added Butts.

“One of the lessons that I’ll carry with me,” said Washington, “is making sure that I reach out enough [to other Black coaches]…so that we can support each other so we can be successful.

“That’s one thing that Coach Stringer really hammers home with us is to appreciate the support, be the support, and cherish it.” 

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