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.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

WBHOF17 - Inductee Christine Grant Relates How She Landed C. Vivian Stringer at Iowa

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Christine Grant, the first women’s athletic director of the University of Iowa and a founding member of the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women and one of its presidents when the organization (AIAW) was the governing body of women’s college athletics, is one of six inductees here this weekend who Saturday night will enter the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in ceremonies at the Tennessee State Theater.

The other five are retired referee Sally Bell, currently the women’s officials coordinator for the Atlantic Sun, Ohio Valley, Southeastern, Southland, SWAC, and Sun Belt Conferences; Middle Tennessee women’s basketball coach Rick Insell, whose son Matt is currently the women’s coach of Mississippi; Louise O’Neal, who coached Southern Connecticut from 1962-1976 making it into one of the powerhouses of its time and who also helped create the AIAW tournament and served on its early WBB committees; former Texas Tech, Olympic, and WNBA Houston Comets great Sheryl Swoopes, who was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in September last fall; and former Uconn great Kara Wolters, who played on the 2000 USA Gold Medalists at the Sydney (Australia) Games) as well as the Huskies’ 1995 NCAA championships.

So, here Friday at the media interview session, Christine Grant smiled when it was mentioned who would believe that one of the staunch defenders of the AIAW against the coming of the NCAA would have a ballroom named after her at NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis.

But also in her many roles, one achievement she reached was luring Cheyney coach C. Vivian Stringer (now at Rutgers) from suburban Philadelphia to the Midwest, where Stringer transformed the unheralded Hawkeyes into a national power.

“My greatest recruiting job, ever,” Grant grinned when asked to go through the timeline in which she managed to get Stringer to move to the Big 10 school.

“Actually, I had met Vivian when I was AIAW president,” Grant recalled. “And she was chewing my ear off, as Vivian can do, you know?, about starting a basketball coaches association.

“And we were being bombarded by a lot of coaches in doing that in different sports but we didn’t have the time, the effort, or the money, because we were fighting off the NCAA,” Grant continued.

“But I had met her before, and I discovered a woman I had gone to graduate school with, had coached her at Slippery Rock when she was a student – Anne Griffith. And I talked to Anne and said, `I like what I hear about Vivian Stringer.’

“And Anne said, `You should go after her but I don’t think you have a hope of getting her to Iowa.’ And I said, `Well, I’m going to try. I made an appointment to meet her and Bill (Stringer’s late husband). And I flew to meet her.

“The first words out of her mouth were, `I do not want to leave Cheyney State, and if I did leave for Cheyney State, it would not be for Iowa.’

“And I thought, `Well, I have not a hope of getting her.’ But, her husband, Bill, winked at me and I thought, `I think I got a shot with him. So I convinced Bill to come visit.’

At the same time, Vivian’s young daughter Janine had special lifelong needs caused by an attack of spinal meningitis and Iowa had the best medical facility to help aid Janine to deal with her medical condition.

“I didn’t realize how important that was to both of them. But I very quickly did realize that and I talked with our people at the hospitals and they said, ‘(Janine) will get no better care anywhere in the country.’

So I said to Bill, `Get Vivian to come and visit and talk to our hospital people and see what you think,’ and they did that. And actually it was the hospital people who really swayed her. They were right. She couldn’t have gotten better treatment.”

Several years later Iowa rose to No. 1 in the Associated Press women’s poll and came the day when a showdown with Ohio State, also in the Top 10, was to occur in Iowa City and a record crowd crammed Carver-Hawkeye Arena to see these two both Big Ten and national rivals match up.

“I got a letter of reprimand from the university,” Grant grinned about being cited for violating the fire marshal’s safety conditions in allowing standing room only to occur. “Which I framed.”

Grant could be remembered following the vote of the 1981 NCAA membership at the annual convention held in Miami to begin governance of women’s athletics and launch a series of championships, including women’s basketball, making an impassioned speech criticizing the university administrators who’s action also spelled the doom of AIAW.

O’Neal of Southern Connecticut was also at that convention and recalled, “I cried when that vote happened.”

Notes: Among the attendees here this weekend is Winthrop women’s coach Lynette Woodard, the former Kansas, WNBA, and Olympic star, as well as first female player for the famed Harlem Globetrotters, whose 3,649 career points with the Jayhawks in the AIAW era, remains ahead in combined era marks of the NCAA record milestone of 3,527 points set last winter by Washington’s Kelsey Plum, the overall first round pick of the WNBA San Antonio Silver Stars.

Woodard is both the women’s hall here and the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.

Mel Greenberg is celebrating his own 10th anniversary celebration here this weekend as a 2007 inductee.


Blogger Jan C said...

Mel, Thanks for this story. It's one I hadn't heard here at Rutgers about our beloved C. Viv. Will keep you on my radar. Jan

9:48 AM  
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