NEW YORK (AP) – When C. Vivian Stringer first started coaching 46 years ago, there weren’t many female African-American basketball coaches to turn to for advice. So she looked elsewhere.
“Everyone that was helping me was men,” she said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. “Men like John Chaney, John Thompson, Nolan Richardson took me under their wing. I had so much respect for them that I was able to learn and they were kind enough to teach.”
While grateful for their help, she wanted to make sure other black female coaches would have someone they could go to. Over her Hall of Fame career, she has been a role model for dozens of them, including South Carolina’s Dawn Staley.
It’s one of the things Stringer is most proud of as she sits one victory away from becoming the fifth Division I women’s basketball coach to reach 1,000 victories. She’ll get her first chance to join the exclusive club Tuesday night against Central Connecticut State.
“I just wanted to make a positive impact,” the 70-year-old Stringer said. “Anything I can give them in any way. The way I might handle something, or the technical aspect of it. I want to set the best example I can for them.”
Whether it’s a friendly word or piece of advice out on the recruiting trail or a phone call, Stringer has made a difference.
“Coach Stringer represents hope for us,” said Staley, who in 2017 became the second African-American coach to win a women’s national championship. “She hasn’t won a national championship, but she’s gotten to the Final Four with three different schools. That’s historical for us. She seized the opportunity to be successful wherever she went and she gave us an example of how to succeed with whatever opportunity you were given.”
Staley and Stringer’s relationship goes back to when Stringer tried to recruit the Philadelphia point guard to Iowa. Stringer was late to recruit Staley, who was set to attend to Virginia. Still, Staley felt bad when she had to tell the coach she was going elsewhere.
“She actually made me cry,” Staley recalled. “I don’t think she meant to put the guilt trip on me, you just hate to say no to her.”
Staley also recalled that Stringer’s Rutgers team was the first Top 25 team in the country to come play Temple when she was coaching there.
“Coach Stringer was the first to give us an opportunity,” Staley said. “She had nothing to gain by it besides making women’s basketball better by giving someone like Temple an opportunity to better ourselves.”
Like Staley, Cincinnati coach Michelle Clark-Heard also was recruited by Stringer to go to Iowa. She, too, went elsewhere, but has cherished knowing Stringer.
“There aren’t a lot of us in that position,” Clark-Heard said of African-American coaches. “Seeing her on the road and how she always is with everyone. She was one of the first to stop me when I had my first Division I head coaching job at Western Kentucky. She’s a phenomenal role model. As an African-American female coach she’s someone that I look up to.”
When Stringer gets her next victory, she’ll join Pat Summitt, Geno Auriemma, Tara VanDerveer and Sylvia Hatchell with 1,000 wins. Division II coach Barbara Stevens of Bentley also has reached the milestone. She’ll be the first African-American coach to reach that mark.
Stringer laughs when she thinks about her start at Cheyney in 1972. She can’t remember her first basketball victory. She had no idea she’d still be coaching nearly five decades later with a chance to reach 1,000 wins.
While details of the first victory escape her, she remembers it took her five tries to get her 900th back in 2013 – a feat she hopes doesn’t repeat itself.
“I just want to get it over with,” Stringer said. “It’s the best way for me to say that. I think that’s what happened with 900, they were trying so hard to do it, you’d think it was the first game we played. They were really nervous to get it done.”
Stringer will have numerous family members, friends, former players and coaches in attendance on Tuesday and many more watching from afar.
“It’s special for me and I recognize the impact I have had,” Stringer said. “I can stand off to the side and look at them and see the young ladies coaching. The fact that I’ve made a difference is something I won’t forget.”
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