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Editor’s note: This is 44th in a series counting down the Top 50 moments in Iowa Hawkeyes women’s athletics history in the 50 days leading up to the 50th anniversary of Title IX in June.
After taking a Cheyney State team that didn’t have a shoe deal or even money for scholarships to a Final Four in 1982, C. Vivian Stringer had no shortage of head coaching opportunities the next year.
Schools from coast to coast, literally — from USC to North Carolina — had interest in Stringer as the next leader of their women’s basketball programs in 1983.
The winner of the Stringer sweepstakes, though, was Iowa. Longtime women’s athletics director Christine Grant pulled off what she later called her “best recruiting job I ever did in my life,” according to Iowa’s alumni magazine.
Stringer’s arrival made her the first Black women’s basketball head coach in the Big Ten.
“Somebody’s got to be the first, and (Grant) was one of those people who wanted to break down those barriers,” said Amy Wilson, the NCAA’s managing director of inclusion.
Bringing Stringer to Iowa — a state with a Black population of 1.4 percent in 1980, according to the New York Times — was not an easy sell.
“I came up with every excuse in the book,” Stringer wrote in her book “Standing Tall: A Memoir of Tragedy and Triumph.” “I asked Dr. Grant if Iowa was where potatoes came from. More seriously, I knew that there were very few minorities there, and I was worried about myself and for my sons.”
While other schools showed off “state-of-the-art courts and training facilities” and had “swanky hotel suites,” Grant brought doctors whose specialties are in working with children with disabilities. Stringer’s daughter, Nina, had spinal meningitis.
“I felt that the people in Iowa really understood what I needed, not just as a coach, but as a mother and a woman,” Stringer wrote. “I didn’t need to see or hear anything else to make my decision.”
Having a brand-new basketball arena with more space for women than peer facilities open the same year Stringer arrived was another perk.
Grant not only recruited Stringer, but also retained her.
Stringer only signed a one-year contract with Iowa while taking a sabbatical from Cheyney State, she explained in her memoir.
But what started as a sabbatical resulted in more than a decade leading the Hawkeyes.
She took the team to a Final Four, another two Elite Eights and six Big Ten titles while endearing herself to a passionate fan base that she compared to a “giant family.”
“If you got invited to speak, they didn’t just drop you back at your hotel after,” Stringer wrote. “Instead, you’d find yourself sitting out in the middle of someone’s property under the trees with a heaping plate of roasted corn and chops so tender you could bite through them with false teeth.”
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