"For girls like Lynette to succeed is important for all women," says Washington. "It means that whatever their blessed gift is, it has the right to be developed, and can be. And it's important, in particular, for black girls. We've always had role models in sports, but most of them have been white. Now we can have both."
Washington's own athletic achievements are a worthy role model as well. As a basketball player she led West Chester (Pa.) State to the women's national title in 1969. And for three years (1969-71) she toured South America with the U.S. national team. From 1971 to 1974 she was an AAU All-America center-forward for the Raytown (Mo.) Piperettes. Washington also earned AAU honors in track and field, winning the Middle Atlantic discus and shotput titles for six straight years (1964-70) and competing in the Olympic Trials in 1964, '68 and '72. In 1977 she was named Outstanding Black Woman in Sports by Ebony magazine.
Washington and Woodard have developed a close personal bond. At times they seem more like mother and daughter—or best friends—than player and coach. Washington says that before Woodard came to KU, people had "been too comfortable with her skills," letting her simply outplay her opponents rather than teaching her new techniques. "She hardly said 'Good job' to me or anything when I came here," Woodard says. "I was waiting for her to pump me up like everyone else did. But I guess I was looking for someone to really coach me."
Washington's influence on her prot�g� has been profound. "I have no other role models other than Coach Washington," says Woodard. "She has made me believe that I can accomplish anything if I work. I'll even graduate early, when many of my friends didn't even think of going to college, because she made me feel it was worth it."
An Academic All-America last year, Woodard has a 3.1 GPA and will get her degree in speech communication in May. After graduation she would like to play in the professional Women's Basketball League. "I know that they've had to struggle in the WBL," she says. "And every girl who wants to play appreciates what they're going through, like those behind us will appreciate what we've done. What people don't want to believe is that in 10 years, skill like mine will be normal, as it is with the men. Heck, guys 5'9" can dunk now. Most of the girls are just happy to have this chance. And most would play for nothing."
But, tell us please, Lynette, can you dunk? She smiles her shiest smile. "I just can't go out there and do it for no reason," she says. "I need the excitement of a game to reach those last few inches." That means a big game, big lead and an open fast break, all of which occurred in an early-season game against Iowa State at Allen Field House in Lawrence.
"When I led the break, even my teammates were yelling for me to throw it down," she says. "But I like to surprise people, so I just laid it in. But the next time I just ran down slow, then took off. I thought I had it." She didn't, the ball caroming off the rim.
"It will take that moment when timing and everything is in sync," says the coach. "But it's not what's really important. Unfortunately, when you're immature you believe the spectacular matters, not consistency." But, she admits, "If spectacular plays are what it takes to make people notice women in this sport, then Lynette wants to do it. And she can." And if you don't believe it, just ask the boys at Piatt Park.