To borrow from “Sgt. Pepper’s” … we celebrate the birthday of the first NCAA women’s championship game: March 28, 1982.
Now, it is not the anniversary of the first women’s college basketball national championship, which started way back in 1969 at West Chester State. And we know that some folks felt that the NCAA _ which, remember, had OPPOSED Titled IX initially _ would not do as good a job with women’s sports as the AIAW (Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women).
Ultimately, though, the NCAA came around on women’s sports (it didn’t take that long, actually).
And whatever the downsides some still point to as a result of that organization taking over administering women’s sports – such as decrease in women coaching women (as those jobs became better-paying) and without any change in the lack of women coaching men _ it was the right thing for women’s sports. (Even if the NCAA irritates me to no end sometimes.)
That day 27 years ago, Louisiana Tech met Cheyney State in Norfolk, Va., for the NCAA title. Tech had defeated Tennessee and Cheyney had beaten Maryland in the semifinals.
Cheyney was coached by C.Vivian Stringer; Louisiana Tech was coached by Sonja Hogg officially, but the actual bench coaching was done by Leon Barmore, the associate head coach. Gary Blair, now the coach at Texas A&M, was an assistant at Tech, while Sue Donohoe, now the NCAA VP for women’s hoops, was a grad assistant.
Tech won 76-62, led by Janice Lawrence’s 20 points. Kim Mulkey, flying around with her braids, was the point guard who ran the show for Tech.
A lot of women’s basketball fans do know all this history, but there are new fans to the game every year, and the past is all new to them. And I do remember what that was like, too. I was new to the game once as well.
March 28, 1982, was my 17th birthday. I was a sports fanatic – had been since earliest memory – and closely followed my high school girls hoops team. But I had never seen a women’s college basketball game until that Sunday-afternoon NCAA title game on CBS.
And I remember very well instantly feeling bonded to the game, amazed at how good all the players were – the best of those players really could play today, if you put them into a time machine – and just hoping that CBS thought it was a good-enough thing to keep showing.
In fact, the thought ran through my mind during the game that I hoped it wouldn’t be a blowout because I was afraid CBS might pull the plug in mid-broadcast if they though it was “boring.”
Now, 27 years later, I cover the sport for a living and it’s March 28 again and I’m … well do the math … oh, I don’t mind saying it …. I’m 44, and Kim Mulkey and Leon Barmore are still in the game (Leon’s back in the game, hurray!) … both are coaching at Baylor, which plays Louisville today at the RBC Center in Raleigh, N.C. … where I’m writing this right now.
Couldn’t think of a better place to spend my birthday.