Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

An Afternoon Chat With C. Viv

Good evening or whatever time you are reading this through direct access or linked from elsewhere :).

While we were stopping by the annual postseason Big Five women's awards reception in town Wednesday night, of which you can find an account at Philly.com, our colleague up North had spent the afternoon with coach Stringer.

A little while ago the "ding" of email notification in our office computer brought the following narrative published in Thursday's Targum. So I would be remiss to not be the first or one of the first to give you Kate's performance, considering her recently fine work with us in Boston.
_ Mel.

Sitting Down With C. Viv

By Kate Burkholder
Piscataway, N.J. _ C. Vivian Stringer has always had her vision of what basketball should be.

As a college-aged kid, Stringer showed up at Cheyney State University in the Philadelphia suburbs to do one thing - to become the basketball coach.

She didn't know how, so she asked.

"I remember being interviewed for the [teaching] position at Cheyney, and I asked the man if they had a basketball team and if I could coach them," Stringer said. "They were kind of surprised, I think, that I asked because they hadn't advertised for a basketball coach. They had advertised for an assistant professor."

So that's what she became.

As a physical education teacher at Cheyney, Stringer soon found herself in a department meeting in which a group of her co-workers were aiming to figure out the year's coaching responsibilities - and there came her big chance.

"They started with softball," Stringer recalled. "They said, 'OK, who wants to coach the softball team?' I raised my hand because I didn't want to be left without anything, thinking that as soon as they get to basketball someone's going to take that."

Next on the auction block was volleyball.

Stringer looked around. No takers.

"I'm sitting there thinking, 'These people are all just waiting for basketball. So when nobody raised their hand for volleyball, I thought I would take it again because I just want to coach something. Then they said, 'Who wants to coach basketball?'"

But when the room fell silent again, Stringer couldn't believe it.

"It seemed like a century must have passed and nobody raised their hand, and I'm thinking that these people are going to think I'm really greedy, that I just want to take over everything.

"When I raised my hand and I said that I wanted it, he told me it was mine and I just wanted to jump up and kiss that man. I called my husband, who was the admissions director at Lincoln University, and it was just a call for celebration. I was so excited. I was coaching the basketball team."

Stringer started off by coaching those three sports at the small university as a volunteer, before receiving tenure as a teacher at Cheyney and ultimately leading groups of women she admits were often older (and taller) than she was and not on scholarships to 11 years of national prominence.

Off an original plan that included reading stacks of basketball books and listening in on clinics, Stringer led the Wolves to the Final Four of the first-ever NCAA women's basketball tournament in 1982.

"I feel like learned in the trenches and I think a lot of coaches don't get to do that anymore," Stringer said. "I really cherished that, and I couldn't have worked any harder. I realized through it all that I better know what I'm talking about and I better be sure and be sharp. It probably made me realize what I needed to be at this time."

Not to say she was going in completely unprepared.

As a kid growing up before the days of Title IX, Stringer wasn't given the opportunity to play sports. So to stay close to what she loved, she did what she had to do - and became a cheerleader for football, wrestling, and basketball.

"I played [basketball] with the guys in our community because we didn't have a team or a schedule or uniforms," she said. "I learned by watching television, and I always wanted to ask he guy the guys, I mean, if you're going to play this game then play it with all your heart and soul and passion. I didn't understand how a guy that goes in for a tackle can just give up so easily. But I became a cheerleader to stay close to the game."

After putting Cheyney State on the basketball map, Stringer took her next coaching job at the University of Iowa. But this time, she wasn't splitting her responsibilities.

She would only be a coach, and she would get paid.

"I was being paid to coach, and it almost seemed sacrilegious. How could you ever get paid to do something that you love so much?" Stringer asked. "If I'm there I should be there to teach and that's my job. I felt like a sell-out like, do I really care about these kids or is it just about winning and making money. It just didn't seem right, but you just have to change with the times."

In her years at Iowa, Stringer found success on the court while dealing with difficult personal situations such as the unexpected death of her husband, Bill.

On the court, she led the Hawkeyes to the 1993 Final Four and won over the hearts of everyone who followed the black and gold.

Then came another relocation the year after that, and in the summer of 1995 Stringer found her way back to the east coast and onto the Banks of the Raritan River, poised and ready to put some of her painful experiences behind her and transform Rutgers into the "Jewel of the East" she envisioned it to be.

In the past decade, the coach has become a legend and a role model, winning her 700th game in December of 2004 and her 750th this past season. Now hers is a name that rings synonymous with women's college hoops.

After leading the Scarlet Knights to the Final Four in 2000, Stringer became - and still is - the only coach in college basketball to lead three different programs to the national stage.

She has coached national standouts like Tasha Pointer, Tammy Sutton Brown, and Cappie Pondexter, and helped the Scarlet Knights find their way late into the NCAA tournament with each passing year.

But for someone continually honored by assortments of organizations and forced to spread herself thin in a game that has transformed greatly since she started, Stringer isn't ready to forget her roots, and wishes that others would focus on keeping the game exactly that.

A game centered on a mutual love and one not preoccupied with money, awards, or newspaper headlines.

"If everybody else would, I think that I would want it that way," Stringer said. "It's like if you live in the mountains and you just have a family and you're the happiest person in the world and you fish and hunt and it's just about getting by. To really be at peace.

"The problem is that once you get involved with those other things it just gets so stressful. I think we have left a place we can never return to - where we are teachers first and coaches second."

And more than any awards or milestones, she says, she would rather watch the transformation of the young lives she now gets paid to touch.

"I want to know I did more than just the game on the floor," Stringer said. "I think sometimes we wonder early in life about if we did things right, and it really doesn't matter to me. I'm at peace with myself and I want some things that I can hold forever."

And with the 34 seasons and 750 wins behind her, while being named one of Sports Illustrated's 101 Most Influential Minorities in Sports and becoming an Olympic gold medal coach and Hall of Famer, what Stringer wants most is to remember why she did any of it in the first place.

"I don't know how some people can go through their entire lives and then when it's over it's like the curtain came down and no one even clapped," Stringer said. "You realize that all along it was for what and for who? For what, and for who?"

Mostly, she hopes, it has all been for herself and those she loves.

"Whether I win 1,000 games or 700 or whatever, what is it really all about?" she asked. "What is important to me and to make me smile and feel good at the end of the day. It's amazing for me to be relived that I'm doing it for the right reasons.

"I love this thing."
© Copyright 2006 The Daily Targum


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