On Vivian Stringer Day, Rutgers embraces Hall of Fame women's basketball coach's legacy

This weekend’s Big Ten home opener for Rutgers women’s basketball will be something special.

The Scarlet Knights on Sunday afternoon will celebrate the legendary career of the team’s former and longtime head coach, C. Vivian Stringer, with a dedication ceremony on the team’s home court. From now on, future generations of Scarlet Knights will play on a court aptly named after the coach who led the team for 25 years.

"This is a historic moment honoring a legendary woman in the world of sports and beyond," the university’s athletic director Pat Hobbs said when announcing the ceremony earlier this year. "We are delighted for Coach Stringer, her family, her letterwinners and all those she has impacted through the years. They now get to watch basketball games at Jersey Mike's Arena on the C. Vivian Stringer Court."

It's a testament to the legacy Stringer leaves behind, the kind of legacy that helped pave a path for others to follow.

Stringer is a household name in college basketball. Her long list of accomplishments includes being one of the winningest coaches in NCAA history. Two seasons ago, Stringer reached a milestone: her 50th season as coach. Her legacy at Rutgers began in the summer of 1995 — just before the founding of the WNBA, where many of her players would later play.

Her coaching career stared at Cheyney in 1972, then continued through the University of Iowa, and Rutgers. She was the first coach in NCAA history to lead three programs to the Final Four — Cheyney in 1982, Iowa in 1993 and Rutgers in 2000 and 2007. At Rutgers, she led the team to 17 tournament berths, including the two Final Fours and a National Championship appearance.

Stringer was the fifth NCAA Division I women’s basketball coach to reach 1,000 career wins — and first Black coach to accomplish that feat. She retired ranked fifth all-time among women’s basketball coaches, with 1,055 wins. In 2009, Stringer was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in the same class as NBA legend Michael Jordan.

Beyond college, Stringer coached internationally. She was the assistant coach for the gold-medal-winning U.S. Olympic team in 2004. She first coached Team USA as an assistant for the bronze-winning 1980 Jones Cup team.

As many wins as Stringer has had, there have also been heartbreaking losses outside of basketball. She suffered the loss of her father, Charles Stoner, when she was only 19. Then, in 1982, the same year that she made her first run to the Final Four with Cheyney, her daughter was stricken with meningitis, and has been confined to a wheelchair since she was 14 months old. Her husband died of a heart attack on Thanksgiving Day in 1992 — months before Stringer took Iowa to the Final Four.

Stringer exemplifies what it means to be an elite coach in a sport often dominated by men. Her identity as a Black female coach, at times, was put on full display, like in 2007, when radio host Don Imus called members of her Rutgers team a racial and sexist slur after their loss to Tennessee in the NCAA women’s championship game. The incident sparked a national conversation surrounding race and gender. Barack Obama — then an Illinois senator and Democratic presidential candidate — called for Imus’ firing, as reported by The Chicago Tribune.

Stringer’s final season at Rutgers, however, was marred with controversy. Just days after signing a new five-year contract with a $1 million per year salary, Stringer stepped away from the team. After months away, the university announced in November 2021 that Stringer would extend her paid leave of absence from the team for the remainder of the season. The team’s associate head coach Timothy Eatman served as acting head coach for the team. The abrupt departure left the team in disarray, and they ended the season 11-20. This past April, Stringer announced she would retire from coaching permanently.

On Sunday Stringer returns to Rutgers where she will be surrounded by friends, family and her basketball community. Dubbed “C. Vivian Stringer Day,” the celebration is scheduled to include pregame and halftime ceremonies during the Scarlet Knights’ game against Ohio State. The team, now led by first-year coach Coquese Washington, was 4-5 heading into Sunday's game.

The game tips off at noon and will broadcast nationally on the Big Ten Network.

Women & Sport is a NorthJersey.com column devoted to female athletes from the rec league level to those in college and the pros. If you've got a tip on an athlete from North Jersey who should be noted in the column, no matter how young they are or how old, please drop me a line at anzidei@northjersey.com.

This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Celebrating Vivian Stringer's long Rutgers women's basketball legacy