Historic Run

Cheyney’s Lady Wolves Were the 1st HBCU Team To Reach the NCAA Final

The Lady Wolves of 1982 were a hot team, finishing the season winning 23 straight games. Coach Vivian Stringer’s only concern were the “cold spells” that occasionally plagued the team – the ball refusing to find the net for long stretches. She hoped it’d be different in the championship game, but it struck again, costing the Cheyney State Lady Wolves the title. Fortunately no one remembers the cold spell. What remains 40 years later is the trail blazed by a fearless group of competitors, led by a future Hall of Fame coach, to the only NCAA Division 1 championship game appearance by an HBCU college.

It’s a feat made all the more impressive by some of the challenges they had to overcome:

  • Cheyney’s total enrollment at the time was roughly 2,500 students. Compare that to some of the schools they beat along the way, all with 20,000+ student bodies: North Carolina State University, Kansas State University, University of Maryland, and Auburn University.
  • They competed in the very first Division 1 women’s championship game, despite being a Division 2 school (with Division 2 resources).
  • Cheyney had no scholarship players.
  • Coach Stringer had to be away from the team occasionally during the historic run to care for her seriously ill daughter.

It’s like David had to take on a crew of Goliaths.

It’s no surprise then that last month Cheyney honored the 40th anniversary of its greatest team at a ceremony attended by Coach Stringer and several of her Lady Wolves players. Called “Herstory Cannot Be Erased” the event offered the ladies a chance to share their memories with new generations of fans and to relive that special season through a highlight reel of 1982’s biggest moments. Journalists from Sports Illustrated, the Washington Post, and HBCU Gameday, among others were on hand to document the celebration.

Our own POC (Tamara Russell) caught up with Kyle Adams, former Cheyney women’s basketball coach and organizer of Herstory, in the runup to the event to ask him about the team and that season.

Two things stood out to him beyond the magnitude of the team’s accomplishment. “First, the coaching staff was made of completely of Black women, which was unheard of at that time. And secondly the job they did left a lasting impression on that program. The ’82 team was no flash in the plan – the Lady Wolves went back to the Final Four in 1984, where they unfortunately lost to Tennessee. My point is that those players were still engaged with the spirit and philosophy of Coach Stringer and her staff and the winning mindset they instilled in those players.”

As I told my players a hundred times, it doesn’t matter where you come from, but where you’re going. It doesn’t matter where you start from, but where you finish.
– C. Vivian Stringer
Standing Tall: A Memoir of Tragedy and Triumph

Coach A’s Takeaways
A few insights from Coach Adams about larger issues affecting HBCUs and women’s basketball.

Future of HBCUs
I’m glad there’s been a resurgence in popularity with HBCUs (like the buzz around Deion Sanders at Jackson State), and high-level athletes are looking at HBCU’s as viable options, but I think it’s really important too that, regardless of where you went to college, to be willing to invest in these institutions. It’s even more important with George Floyd and different issues of systemic racism to have places where Black children will be nurtured and protected. And they’ll be educated to thrive in today’s global economy. HBCUs can do that, but we in the Black community need to fund them.

Brittney Griner
(The WNBA star has been in a Russian prison since February, facing up to 10 years for possessing vape cartridges with hashish oil.)

If Brittney Griner was an NBA star, there would be a different level of attention. And from an equity standpoint, the fact that Brittney – who you could argue is the greatest female basketball player ever – has to go to Russia to make money is concerning. Because NBA players don’t have to do that. You know how much Brittney made from the WNBA last year? About $220,000, for one of the league’s top stars. (NOTE: She makes almost $2 million playing for Russia-based UMMC Ekaterinburg.)

As much as we’ve made gains regarding gender and women having the same opportunities as men, and receiving the same respect and appreciation for the same work, I think we still have a long way to go.

Game On!
Youtube of the Lady Wolves and the Lady Techsters ’82 championship game.

 

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2 Comments

    • Thank you for your insights about the team and its history. Particularly amazed to hear about the off-the-court family issues Coach Stringer had to deal with during that run. As if what that team did wasn’t incredible enough — a truly epic story! Also hope more people take to heart your call for more funding for HBCUs.

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