Woodard, Lynette (1959—)

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Woodard, Lynette (1959—)

African-American athlete, the first woman signed with the Harlem Globetrotters, who captained the 1984 American basketball team to an Olympic gold medal. Born in Wichita, Kansas, on August 12, 1959; daughter of Dorothy Woodard and Lugene Woodard; graduated from University of Kansas, 1981.

Was a star national player at the University of Kansas; won a gold medal as a member of the World University Games team (1979); played in the Pan American games (1981 and 1983); was on the World championship team (1983 and 1990); was the first woman signed with the Harlem Globetrotters (1985); captained the first American women's basketball team in the Olympics (1984) and won a gold medal; had nine years of professional play; became a stockbroker for Magna Securities in New York City; signed to the Cleveland Rockers in the WNBA (February 27, 1997).

Lynette Woodard, who captained the American women's basketball team to an Olympic gold-medal victory and became the first woman to play day-to-day professional basketball on a men's team, once told The New York Times: "I don't know how long it will

take, but a woman will play in the NBA. I want people to see me play with the Globetrotters and say a woman could also have the ability to play in the NBA." Woodard's ambition was realized when the first American women's professional basketball league, the WNBA, began its inaugural season on June 21, 1997. Her participation in the sport—which began in Wichita, Kansas, where she played pick-up games with her older brother Darrell—helped light the path to this major achievement in the history of women's sports.

Born in 1959, Woodard received early inspiration from her cousin Hubie "Geese" Ausbie, who was a member of the Harlem Globetrotters. In addition to playing "sockball" with her brother and father ("We'd roll up socks for a ball and shoot off the bedroom door," she told People), Woodard practiced the moves taught to her by Ausbie: "Geese showed us how to spin a basketball on our fingers and do all those Globetrotter tricks…. It was a joy to my heart." She played her first organized basketball as a sophomore in high school and went on to become a collegiate star for the University of Kansas Jayhawks. The 5'11" Woodard led the nation in rebounds with a 14.8 average, and her 25.2 points per game were second in the country. She was named freshman player of the year by Street and Smith's and Basketball Weekly. During her sophomore year, Woodard led the nation in scoring, averaging 31 points per game and setting a single-season scoring record with 1,177 points. With 33 rebounds, she also set a single-game record. Woodard's college scoring points totaled 3,649. A four-time collegiate All American from 1978 to 1981, she was a serious student, maintaining a 3.04 gradepoint average in her last two years of college, and Great Women in Sports notes that she "eventually broke 24 of the 32 records the NCAA kept, regarding women's basketball…. She was the first UK student ever to have a jersey number retired at the end of her college career." She received her bachelor's degree in speech communications and human relations in 1981 and would go on to study for her master's.

In the 1979 World University Games, Woodard played on the gold-medal winning American team. Chosen as a member of the U.S. Olympic Team in 1980, she was disappointed at being unable to attend when the U.S. protested the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan by boycotting the Games. With professional opportunities for women in basketball almost nonexistent, Woodard played for a year in Italy where she was the only English-speaking member of her team. Although her time there proved to be isolating and she was homesick, Woodard would later note that she was grateful for the experience. On her return to America in 1982, she took a position at her alma mater as an academic advisor and volunteer assistant basketball coach. Meanwhile, she trained for the 1984 Olympic team tryouts and also became recognized for her community service. Woodard's efforts included her assistance in initiating a Big Brother-Big Sister program in Kansas and serving as a volunteer at the American Cancer Society. The Wichita branch of the NAACP conferred upon her the title of Woman of the Year in 1982.

That year, she was captain of the U.S. national team which defeated the Soviet Union (Woodard scored 21 points). In 1983, as a member of the U.S. team, she won a gold medal at the Pan American Games and a silver medal at the World University Games. In Los Angeles during 1984, she captained the first American women's basketball team to capture an Olympic gold medal.

In 1985, Woodard became the first woman to be signed by the Harlem Globetrotters. During tryouts, she had been one of ten finalists, and Earl Duryea, team manager, called her "a 10 in a group of 9¾." Great Women in Sports notes that she started out on the team as a "'hopper,' or straight ball player who helped the comic players set up their routines. Gradually she was given her own chance to play the comic." The experience was rewarding. Woodard told the Los Angeles Times, "It's entertainment…. I see laughter and smiles on people's faces…. There are so many terrible things happening in the world. You can make people forget about their problems just for a couple hours. That's good…. You see those little kids. Those eyes sparkle. And I know their hearts, because that used to be me." It was Woodard's hope that her visibility as a woman player on a men's team would help "a women's professional basketball league become viable and stable." Her dream, and that of many other women players in the country, would become a reality about a decade later.

Contractual disputes prompted her to leave the Globetrotters after two seasons, and she returned to the University of Kansas as a coach. The Women's Sports Foundation named her Professional Sportswoman of the Year in 1986. Once noting that there were a lot of women who had the same dream she had, "but they don't have any place to go after their college days," Woodard went on to see the creation of the WNBA and was signed to the league's Cleveland Rockers in February 1997. Having developed an interest in the financial world from her play for Daiwa Securities in Japan, she also became a registered stockbroker for Magna Securities in New York.

sources:

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

Newman, Matthew. Lynette Woodard. Mankato, MN: Crestwood House, 1986.

Rosenthal, Bert. Lynette Woodard: The First Female Globetrotter. Chicago, IL: Children's Press, 1986.

Woolum, Janet. Outstanding Women Athletes. Phoenix, AZ: Oryx, 1992.

Karin L. Haag , freelance writer, Athens, Georgia