USA Basketball Book Club - Standing Tall: A Memoir of Tragedy and Triumph
The purpose of the USA Basketball Book Club is to share stories from and about members of the USA Basketball family. USA Basketball does not endorse the sale or purchase of these books nor the opinions expressed in them. Catch up on previous reads: The Spencer Haywood Rule | The Mamba Mentality
The first coach to lead three different women’s basketball teams to NCAA Final Four appearances, C. Vivian Stringer shares her personal and professional story in “Standing Tall: A Memoir of Tragedy and Triumph.”
The Basketball Hall of Fame and Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame inductee found success at Cheyney State College, the University of Iowa and at Rutgers University, where she has been the head women’s basketball coach since the 1995-96 season.
The book is compelling for basketball fans and anyone who might enjoy reading about courage in the face of great loss. The lessons are sometimes basketball focused and sometimes not, and they all have broad implications for the reader.
From the Start
As a high school student, Stringer already was a strong athlete who played many different sports with children in her neighborhood, but the only way she could find to get onto the court was as a cheerleader. Her tryout was strong, but she was left off the team at Germantownship High School because she was Black. The head of her local chapter of the NAACP, who had watched the try outs, approached Stringer and her family about protesting the decision. Convinced by her father, who asked her to consider the message she could send and the example she could set for others, Stringer agreed, and the school board, principal and other politicians added Stringer and another Black student to the cheerleading squad.
“I didn’t want to get involved in the controversy, but my father made me see that the problem was bigger than me. No matter how intimidating it would be to be the school’s first black cheerleader, no matter how scared I was of looking like someone had handed me something I didn’t deserve, I couldn’t back down now. When I thought about all those other little girls coming up against the sick feeling I’d had in my stomach that morning, listening to those names being read, I realized I couldn’t afford not to stand up for what was right.”
Interestingly, Stringer associates her experience with her high school cheerleading experience to one she had while coaching with USA Basketball.
Stringer first coached with USA Basketball as an assistant on the bronze-medal winning 1980 USA R. Williams Jones Cup Team, and she was a USA Basketball head coach for the 1982 U.S. Olympic Festival East Team, the silver-medal winning 1985 USA World University Games Team, the 1989 USA World Championship Qualifying Team and the bronze-medal winning 1991 USA Pan American Games Team.
But, it was during her experience as an assistant coach for the 2004 U.S. Olympic Women’s Basketball Team that Stringer took exception to procedure. While USA Basketball featured a total of three assistant coaches for the 2004 team and celebrated all three in its publications and press, the official scoresheet for each game listed just one assistant coach, and Stringer’s name did not appear.
“The officials claimed that three assistant coaches were too many to list, and my first instinct was to chide myself for being petty. Let it go, V.I., I told myself. Everyone who matters knows you were there.”
As she had when she was a teenager, she spoke out.
“Are you going to accept crumbs when you’ve spent a career telling young women never to do that same thing? I had a responsibility to ask that my name appear, not just because I had worked hard, but so that a young black women in the future might think, I can do that too.”
Stringer not only was inspired by her father’s example, she references her family members throughout the book. From supporting her as an adult, to shaping her perspective, those family lessons also influenced her as a coach.
“Nobody felt more important than anyone else in my family, and I want everyone to understand that we’re all equal in the family that is our team. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, if she has worked hard and done the best she can possibly do; you don’t have to be the person who scores the most in order to speak.”
Tragedy and Triumph
The book’s title makes it plain that Stringer’s story includes losses as well as wins, and neither is about just basketball.
Anyone who has suffered loss could relate to the grief, and all of the difficult emotions Stringer admits to.
“They say that God never gives you a burden you cannot bear, and maybe that’s true, but I know that there have been plenty of days when I have not been able to see my way forward, days where I have thought, I cannot lift my head and go on. But I know that it has always been better for me to pick up that burden, no matter how heavy, and to carry it to the very best of my abilities.”
Stringer, like many great coaches, demands excellence from her athletes.
“You see, my young ladies knew that in order to prevail, they needed to think like champions. That means stepping up, no matter what kind of obstacles life puts in front of you. It means digging deep within yourself and finding the will to fight, no matter how many times you get knocked down.”
Athletes and coaches will find a lot to inspire them in this book, on and off the court.
“Nobody knows better than a basketball coach that you might not reap the rewards of your hard work, and that you don’t always get what you deserve. But with the support of other people, you get through it. We need one another, and if we stick together, we can get through anything.”