Stringer, C. Vivian (1948—)

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Stringer, C. Vivian (1948—)

African-American coach, the third all-time winningest Division I coach in women's basketball. Name variations: Vivian Stringer. Born in Edenborn, Pennsylvania, on March 16, 1948; attended Slippery Rock State College, Pennsylvania; married gymnast Bill Stringer (died 1992); children: David, Janine, and Justin.

Became the first women's basketball coach in the U.S. to take two different college teams to the NCAA Final Four; named national coach of the year three times; became the third all-time winningest Division I coach in women's basketball.

When Vivian Stringer was in high school, the closest she could get to sports was as the first African-American member of the cheerleading squad, because the school offered no basketball or track teams for women. However, during her undergraduate years at Slippery Rock State College, she was able to participate in the sports that she loved—basketball, field hockey, softball, and tennis. Her devotion was equally matched with athletic talent, and her performance merited her induction into the school's athletic Hall of Fame.

In 1971, she moved with her husband Bill Stringer to Cheyney State University where she volunteered as a basketball coach while he taught exercise physiology. During Stringer's 11 seasons at Cheyney, she developed a winning program for the school, taking the team to the finals of the first Final Four when the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) started a women's championship tournament in 1981. This success was overshadowed for Stringer, however, when her infant daughter Janine contracted meningitis, leaving her confined to a wheelchair.

Two years after her team's historic appearance in the NCAA tournament, in 1983 Stringer became head coach of the University of Iowa's women's basketball team, the Hawkeyes. Once again, she turned out a winning team, with ten straight 20-victory seasons. In addition to winning nine NCAA tournament berths, the Hawkeyes claimed six conference championships. During the team's highlight 1992–93 season, like Cheyney before them, they advanced to the NCAA Final Four. But for Stringer it was a time of grief. Her husband had died on Thanksgiving Day before the start of the season, and she contemplated giving up coaching. She remarked to the Philadelphia Daily News: "I very seriously thought of not working again. I just felt I couldn't get the energy or enthusiasm to do it. Athletics seems like such a contradiction between life and what happened to my husband. It all seemed like such play. But my sons helped me through that. Basketball kept some semblance of sanity. I wrapped myself up in it." At the end of the season, she was named Naismith National Coach of the Year and a notable black woman in sports by the Smithsonian Institution. Among the many other accolades Stringer received was the Carol Eckman Award in honor of the courage and integrity she brought to women's basketball. In 1994, she became one of only five active coaches with 500 career victories.

Although revered on the Iowa campus, Stringer decided she needed a change after 12 seasons with the Hawkeyes. In 1995, she accepted the richest deal ever extended to a women's basketball coach in the country when Rutgers University in New Jersey offered her a base salary of $150,000 a year (higher than any male coach at Rutgers) plus incentives which reportedly brought the package close to $300,000 a year. In return, Stringer promised to turn Rutgers' program into "the jewel of the East," using her combined strengths of recruiting, discipline, and intelligent strategy.

But her first two seasons at Rutgers proved to be rocky ones marred by losing records and a critical press that scrutinized her ample salary and failure to deliver the expected victories. In the face of such criticism, Stringer worked hard to acclimate her team to her style of playing and coaching while wondering if she had made a mistake in leaving what had been her numberone recruiting class at Iowa. "It was tough for me because I had been used to being embraced and I had enough success that I felt that everybody should know that, with a little bit of time, we would be pushing forward," she said. "I think maybe I was a little thin-skinned because I hadn't had that kind of push or expectations."

In the 1997–98 season, Stringer proved to her critics what she had known all along: that she could develop Rutgers' Scarlet Knights into one of the nation's top women's basketball teams. Through savvy recruiting, she stacked the team with such players as Tasha Pointer, Tomora Young , and Shawnetta Stewart , all of whom would garner Player of the Year accolades during 1998 and 1999. Training her players in a system of devastating defense, Stringer helped her team hold opponents to an average of just 55.8 points per game, while they racked up a 20-win season and an NCAA Tournament appearance. The following season was even more successful: another 20-win season which culminated with the team's ascension to the Elite Eight of the tournament and a rank of sixth in the nation. Stringer enjoyed the prestige of "Coach of the Year" titles in both seasons, and 1999 brought another promising batch of recruits which included two high-school All-Americans and the top junior-college player in the nation.

Stringer also used her administrative talents in the service of the sport through her participation in the Women's Basketball Coaches Association. She further influenced the sport through her election to the Women's Sports Foundation Advisory Board and by becoming a voting board member of the Amateur Basketball Association of the United States. Her expectations of team members remain high, and she is particularly noted for producing thinking players. "You can either give a person a fish or teach them to become a fisherman," she once noted. "I want [players] to be fishermen."

sources:

Greenberg, Mel. "Stringer Highest Paid Women's Hoop Coach," in The Day [New London, CT]. July 15, 1995.

Johnson, Anne Janette. Great Women in Sports. Detroit, MI: Visible Ink, 1998.

Helga P. McCue , freelance writer, Waterford, Connecticut