In 1971, 23-year-old Charlaine Vivian Stringer got a teaching position at Cheyney State College (now Cheyney University of Pennsylvania), the nation’s first Historically Black College & University located roughly 22 miles west of Philadelphia.
Stringer was asked to coach Cheyney’s women’s basketball team. She was a four-sport athlete herself, playing basketball, softball, volleyball, and field hockey.
Forty-seven years later, the 70-year-old Stringer joined the most exclusive group of collegiate basketball coaches. She won her 1,000th game when her Rutgers Scarlet Knights defeated Central Connecticut State 73-44 Tuesday in Piscataway, N.J.
According to the NCAA record books, Stringer (who is now 1,000-402 for her career) is the seventh basketball coach (men’s or women’s) to reach the 1,000-victory mark while coaching at the Division I level. She is also the sole African-American in the group.
On the women’s side, she joins the late Pat Summit (Tennessee 1974-2012; 1,098-208), Tara VanDerveer (Idaho 1978-80, Ohio State 1980-85, Stanford 1985-95, 1996-present: 1,038-242), Geno Auriemma (Connecticut: 1,028-136), and Sylvia Hatchell (Francis Marion 1975-86, North Carolina: 1986-present: 1,007-390).
Mike Krzyzewski (Army 1975-80, Duke 1980-present: 1,102-338) and Jim Boeheim (Syracuse 1976-present: 1,029-371) are the only Division I men’s coaches to surpass 1,000 career victories. (Boeheim’s official NCAA record excludes 101 vacated wins and nine games from the 2015-16 season when he served a suspension).
For Stringer, her 1,000th career victory is about the journey itself as much as it is about X’s and O’s.
Stringer received no salary for coaching at Cheyney, meaning she was essentially a volunteer coach. In spite of limited resources and a small budget, she gradually built the Wolves into a national power.
Cheyney appeared in the 1980 and 1981 AIAW Women’s Basketball Tournaments. In 1982, Stringer led the Wolves to the inaugural NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship final, losing to a Louisiana Tech squad that defeated Summit’s Lady Vols in the Final Four.
It was a bittersweet time for Stringer in the 1981-82 season. Her baby daughter, Janine, was diagnosed with spinal meningitis. The disease almost killed her and took away her ability to walk and talk.
After the NCAA began governing women’s athletics, a shift in favor of schools in the power conferences occurred. Cheyney could barely afford to send its women’s team to Norfolk, Va. for the Final Four. Stringer departed Cheyney for Iowa after the 1982-83 season ended with a one-point loss to Penn State in the Sweet Sixteen.
It was an easy decision for Stringer both professionally and personally. Iowa offered an increase in salary, better facilities, travel, and amenities. The biggest enticement, however, were the team of doctors at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital that specialize in children with special needs for Janine.
In 12 seasons, Stringer led the Hawkeyes to six Big Ten regular season titles and nine NCAA Tournament appearances. She became the first coach in the women’s game to lead two different schools to the Final Four in 1993. Unfortunately, professional success would once again be marred by personal tragedy. Stringer’s husband, Bill, died of a heart attack Nov. 26, 1992 at the age of 47.
In the blink of an eye, Stringer became a widow and single mother of three children (one of whom requires constant medical care). At the same time, she was experiencing success in her profession. This is why the decision to leave Iowa for Rutgers in 1995 was a head scratcher to some, especially after assembling one of the nation’s top recruiting classes.
That duality of professional and personal led Stringer to Piscataway. When she arrived at Rutgers 23 years ago, she immediately became the school’s highest paid coach. She wouldn’t have to build a program from scratch as she did at both Cheyney and Iowa, which meant more time with family. Rutgers also provided a full-time nanny to assist in the care of Janine.
In addition, Piscataway provided the dose of reality that her sons, David and Justin, need as African-American men. They wouldn’t have received that reality living in Iowa City. It wasn’t an easy decision to leave Iowa but necessary for the sake of her family…and herself.
“It was hard for people to understand,” Stringer said in a 1995 New York Times interview. “But Iowa was the happiest place in the world, the place where we had the birth of Justin, where we had great success. But it is also the saddest place in the world. We lost our husband and father there. All of those things began to play hard.”
Stringer found both personal solace and professional glory in Piscataway.
She has been the head coach at Rutgers for half of her professional life. Two years after arriving, she led the Scarlet Knights to the first of four Big East regular season crowns. In 2000, she became the first basketball coach in history to take three different programs to the Final Four and the only woman to do so.
Rick Pitino (Providence, Kentucky, Louisville) and John Calipari (UMass, Memphis, Kentucky) are the only men’s coaches to take three different programs to the Final Four. They have three vacated Final Four appearances between them (Louisville 2012, Memphis 2008, UMass 1995).
Rutgers won the Big East Tournament and advanced to the National Championship game in 2007. They were defeated by Tennessee for Summit’s seventh title.
Stringer was named National Coach of the Year three times (1982, 1988, 1993) and is a two-time winner of both Big Ten (1991, 1993) and Big East (1998, 2005) Coach of the Year awards. She has 29 20-win seasons and was an assistant coach on the national team that won gold at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. She also led Rutgers to the Women’s NIT title in 2014.
Stringer was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2001. Eight years later, she was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame with a class that included Michael Jordan, David Robinson, John Stockton, and Jerry Sloan.
Stringer’s impact on the game was on full display Tuesday night. Many of her former players were on hand.
Rebecca Richman, a former Rutgers center, took a 90-minute train ride from Brooklyn.
“If it wasn’t for her, we wouldn’t be the women that we are today,” Richman said. “She has affected the lives of so many women, from all over the country, who now live all over the world.”
Deb Walker, a star player from Stringer’s days at Cheyney, flew in from Detroit because she “had to bear witness”. Tasha Pointer, who led the Scarlet Knights to their first Final Four appearance, flew in from Chicago. Pointer is now head coach at the University of Illinois-Chicago.
“For Coach Stringer, it’s always been about the people—not the wins, not the losses, but the people,” Pointer said. “She made sure that she continued to empower, impact, and influence young ladies. It’s not just her job. It’s her passion. It’s her life.”
More than 100 of Stringer’s former players were on hand Tuesday. As the final seconds ticked away, the 4,583 fans on hand held up signs with “CVSK” written on them and chanted her name. After the final buzzer sounded, red and white confetti rained down from the ceiling. The current Scarlet Knights filled a Gatorade bucket with confetti and dumped it over Stringer’s head.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy was in attendance Tuesday night. South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley made the trip to Piscataway with her staff. Staley’s staff includes Jolette Law, who played for Stringer at Iowa and is a former Rutgers assistant.
The Gamecocks play Clemson on Thursday but Staley wanted to be there because of what Stringer means to African-American coaches.
“It’s legacy,” Staley said. “She’s meant so much to the game and I’m here to celebrate with her.”
There were video tributes from each living member of the 1,000 Win Club.
“Hey girl, welcome to the club!” Hatchell said with a smile.
“You are a better person than a basketball coach—and you’re a great basketball coach,” VanDerveer said.
“What a tremendous job you’ve done in promoting, coaching, and really moving the game of basketball along,” Krzyzewski said.
Auriemma, a former rival of Stringer’s from the days when UConn and Rutgers played in the Big East, was also in attendance. Although he was there to show respect, he was booed by the biased crowd who haven’t forgotten those Big East battles.
Stringer received congratulations and kudos from fellow 2009 Hall of Fame inductee Robinson, Charles Barkley, and Kobe Bryant. Billie Jean King and Whoopi Goldberg also paid tribute. Even Hillary Clinton took to Twitter to celebrate Stringer’s accomplishment.
Tonight, @cvivianstringer won her 1,000th career victory as a basketball coach. She's just the ninth coach in the history of the sport to reach this milestone, the fifth NCAA Division 1 women's coach and the first African American. Congrats, Coach Stringer, and here’s to 1,001. pic.twitter.com/eC029yWd24
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) November 14, 2018
“I think everybody knows I love her,” Stringer said when asked about Clinton’s tweet. “I think that she’s special and that she’d take the time…she has a lot more really important things to worry about. I’m just that little person who is trying to win basketball games.”
Stringer has the same competitive fire she had 47 years ago as an unpaid coach in Cheyney, Pa. She signed a four-year, $3.4 million extension through the 2020-21 earlier this month.
“This agreement not only recognizes Coach Stringer’s success on the court,” Rutgers athletic director Pat Hobbs said. “But also her tremendous record of preparing our students for the next phase of their life, whether in the WNBA, the business world, or anything else they might pursue.”
The one thing missing from Stringer’s resume is a national championship. Each member of the 1,000 Win Club has at least one. This provides motivation, but it’s not her only motivation.
“I would be lying if I didn’t say that I want to win a national championship, it would mean everything in the world,” Stringer said. “I want the girls to know what it’s like to be treated like first-class citizens. I want that for them. They will never be able to imitate that feeling.”
She also gives credit to her late husband, Bill, who was her biggest cheerleader.
“He would brag about me and I would just be embarrassed,” she said.
Stringer worried the attention leading up to Tuesday’s game would put undue pressure on her team. This was not the case as the Scarlet Knights only trailed for 20 seconds in the contest. On Monday, she placed her career in perspective during a media session. She acknowledged her almost five decades in coaching but quickly shifted focus back to the people she’s worked with over the years.
“It doesn’t cement anything, but that it’s a lot of games,” Stringer said of reaching the 1,000 win milestone. “It means people have trusted me to coach their teams, the young ladies have given me and my staff a chance. They believe in me. I thank God for that.”
History was also made for Central Connecticut State on Tuesday as well. Senior Kiana Patterson led the Blue Devils with 25 points. Patterson came into the game needing just four points to become the 16th player in program history to surpass 1,000 points for her career.
– Curtis Rawls is a Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage. Curtis can be followed on Twitter @CuRawls203.