Sports and life are inextricably linked from C. Vivian Stringer's point of view. Their lessons are transitive, and in her case, have molded a life philosophy and inspired and influenced the players she coaches and the family she has raised.
On Thursday, Stringer, head coach of Rutgers University's women's basketball team, kicked off the 2011-12 Jepson Leadership Forum lecture series, "Game Changers: How Women Lead and Change the World," by sharing stories of the philosophy that has brought her achievement and helped her prevail over tribulation.
Stringer, who grew up as the daughter of a coal miner in rural Pennsylvania, didn't mention her 2009 basketball Hall of Fame induction, a class that included Michael Jordan, John Stockton and David Robinson. She also avoided speaking about her 2004 assistant coaching position with the U.S. Olympic women's basketball team or about the C. Vivian Stringer Child Development Center at Nike headquarters in Oregon.
Instead, she focused on the loss and disappointment that tainted three of her team's four Final Four appearances. Leading up to her 1982 Final Four appearance with Cheney State College, her daughter was diagnosed with spinal meningitis. On Thanksgiving Day of the season leading up to her 1993 Final Four appearance with Iowa, her husband Bill died following a heart attack. In 2007, Don Imus, a well-known radio host, notoriously denigrated her Rutgers team, which finished as national runners-up.
Stringer was thanked by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her response to Imus' outburst. She expanded on those sore memories and explained how she adapted and moved on from each one, emphasizing the ability to adapt. Having weathered so much loss, Stringer said she developed a set of values that she tried to instill in her players. She said she hoped to teach her players "to be empowered, to love, to be willing to make changes, to be principled, not to be so hard-headed when they think they know everything, to realize: you know what that person whose hair is grey, guess what, that is a sign of wisdom." She said she understood how quickly life could be taken away, and that one must value people and loved ones still around them.
Stringer, 63, addressed her 41 years of coaching basketball and the years leading up to it in her recent book "Standing Tall: A Memoir of Tragedy and Triumph." Stringer received a standing ovation following her speech.
Abby Oliver, a four-year veteran of the University of Richmond women's basketball team, was influenced by Stringer's wisdom, she said.
"On and off the court, you deal with a lot of ups and downs," she said. "Coach Stringer emphasized that you can overcome all the down times in your life because you are much stronger than you think you are, and with other's help, you can get through any situation."
Stringer delivered her lecture as if she was speaking to players in the locker room.
As only the third woman and first African-American woman to reach 800 career wins, her method worked.
"I'm a basketball coach, that's what I do," Stringer said. "This isn't what I do, but you know what? In a way, in a way it is."
Contact reporter Chris McClintick at email@example.com.
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