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In '82, the 'C' stood for 'Cinderella'

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Posted: Thursday March 18, 1999 01:51 PM

  Stringer coached Cheyney to the brink of a championship. John Iacono

Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer is one of the pioneers of modern women's basketball. In her 27-year head coaching career with Cheyney State, Iowa and Rutgers, Stringer has taken 13 teams to the NCAA tournament. She has made four trips to the regional finals and reached two Final Fours. Richard Deitsch, a reporter for SI for Women, reminisced with Stringer after a recent practice.

Nearly 17 years have passed since March 28, 1982, when Stringer brought tiny Cheyney State (Pa.) to the championship game of the inaugural NCAA women's tournament. Somewhere in her South Brunswick, N.J., home is a tape of Louisiana Tech's 76-62 victory over the Lady Wolves. But even after all these years Stringer still cannot bring herself to watch it.

"We protect ourselves against the things that really hurt us," says Stringer, now head coach at Rutgers, which faces Texas Tech in the Midwest Region semifinals Saturday night in Normal, Ill. "Most games I'll take apart, but some games I just can't. And that's one of them."

In her 12-year coaching tenure at Cheyney, a historically black public college near Philadelphia with 2,400 students, Stringer took a school with a $14,000 annual hoops budget, five basketballs and no scholarship athletes and built it into one of the nation's elite basketball programs. The 1982 Lady Wolves were seeded second in the bottom half of a 32-team draw, and roared past giants Auburn, North Carolina State, Kansas State and Maryland before the clock finally struck midnight in the title game against the top-ranked Lady Techsters.

"The score was not at all reflective of the game itself," recalls Stringer. "If you took the five that Louisiana Tech had and the five that we had, the game was dead even. It came down to depth. When I took out my center I brought in a 5'11" player. When they took out their center, they brought in Dennis Rodman's sister. Let me tell you something: Debra Rodman was 6'3", and if you know how Dennis rebounds and has that nasty streak, well, that was Debra. And that's when the game changed."

Women's college basketball has undergone some large-scale changes since Stringer got into coaching more than a quarter-century ago. At the 1982 Final Four in Norfolk, Va., Stringer had to borrow the Norfolk State University band because Cheyney didn't have one. Cheyney didn't have a public relations person, either. "When the press wanted information on our school I had to call a friend of mine in the English department and ask her to put some pamphlets together," Stringer said following a recent practice. "We didn't have much at Cheyney. We were like the Sisters of the Poor. I had to go to a Baptist church in Philadelphia to see if we could get a little blue C on a sweater so we could look like we were in uniform when we boarded the plane for the NCAAs. We wanted to get everybody in a white sweater with a blue varsity letter C. I remember getting on that plane in those sweaters, with everybody taking pictures, and saying: 'Man, this is great.'"

So just how far has Stringer come since the NCAA's nascency in Norfolk? If her Scarlet Knights make it to this year's Final Four in San Jose, they'll take along a 30-member pep band. You want media guides? The 1998-99 Rutgers tome has a five-page section devoted to Stringer alone.

"And today," laughs Stringer, "we even have three or four different types of sweatpants."

Sisters of the Poor? No more.

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