The Women’s Final Four is this weekend in Dallas. A Final Four factual reminder: The first-ever NCAA runners-up was an HBCU.
The 1982 Cheyney State (now University) women’s basketball team’s historic story needs to be told. Last Saturday, CBS aired a documentary that featured the coach, C. Vivian Stringer, and her all-Black team. Earlier in February, ESPN ran an almost eight-minute piece on the team during its SportsCenter signature show.
Both video documentary efforts are good, but they are not nearly enough to fully tell the Cheyney story.
During an NCAA game, South Carolina Coach Dawn Staley sported a Cheyney replica jersey on the sidelines thanks to Kyle Adams, a school alum and Delaware State deputy athletic director.
“I reached out to an alum who makes a lot of apparel and merchandise based around our 1982 women’s team,” explained Adams in an exclusive MSR interview. He reached out to a former player of his, who in turn got in touch with Staley.
“She responded and we mailed it out. I had no clue that she was going to be on television… I started screaming at the television, saying, ‘Look at her jersey.’”
Staley wore No. 44, Yolanda Laney’s number—the player had no clue that the legendary coach would do this, said Adams. “She [Laney] was one of her mentors when she was coming up. That was beautiful to see.”
The NCAA began sanctioning women’s basketball in 1981, and the Pennsylvania-based Cheyney reached the 1982 championship game before losing to champion Louisiana Tech. No HBCU basketball team, men or women, has finished in the title game since.
Unfortunately, Black colleges have all too often been double-digit seeds near the bottom of the bracket when they are selected for the NCAA tournament. There have been few exceptions over the years.
Cheyney had the No. 1, 2, and 3 seeds in 1983, 1982, and 1984 respectively; Jackson State was the seventh seed in 1982; Howard was eighth seed in that same year. Both Jackson State and South Carolina State were seeded eight in 1983.
Over four decades later, telling the Cheyney story is even more important, if anything for its historic significance that should be annually mentioned in NCAA tournament ads.
“I think that’s something that gets overlooked,” continued Adams. “The reason the Cheyney State story is so significant…is that for close to 40 years, only three [HBCU] schools have been able to win at least one game in March Madness WBB.” Cheyney’s all time NCAA record is 8-2.
An all-Black coaching staff led by Stringer, who would take two more schools—Iowa and Rutgers—to the Final Four, was the first coach in NCAA history to do so. She recruited two high school All-Americans (Laney and Val Walker) among other prep stars who opted to play for a Black coach in college rather than attend a PWI.
Adams stressed that the 1982 Cheyney team wasn’t a Cinderella story as some might think. “These women in the 1981 tournament lost in the Sweet 16 of the AIAW. They didn’t just fall out and magically appear. [Cheyney] was a very strong program that was nationally ranked.”
Overlooked, yes. Forgotten, hardly. But Adams and many others want the Cheyney team’s accomplishments to be more formally recognized in women’s basketball history.
“Going as far back as 10 years ago,” recalled Adams, “I nominated the team for the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. [There’s been] very little communication as to where that nomination [stands].”
The 1982 Cheyney team is up for Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame consideration this year—an announcement is expected this weekend. If they are voted in, the entire all-Black team and all-Black coaching staff will enter that hallowed hall.
Support Black local news
Help amplify Black voices by donating to the MSR. Your contribution enables critical coverage of issues affecting the community and empowers authentic storytelling.
Leave a Reply