1982 Cheyney State, Basketball Hall of Fame

1982 Cheyney State Team Honored At Basketball Hall of Fame

Cheyney University’s staff is believed to be the first coaching staff composed entirely of Black women to compete in a women's national championship game.

The 1981-1982 Cheyney University women’s basketball team made history in 1982 as the first and only HBCU to ever appear in a NCAA Division 1 national championship game. Pennsylvania’s Cheyney State, as it was then known, is the oldest HBCU in America. Coached by Hall of Famer C. Vivian Stringer, the team went into the first-ever women’s NCAA tournament on a 20-game win streak and defeated Auburn, North Carolina State, Kansas State, and Maryland en route to a championship game against Louisiana Tech. 

As NY 1 reports, the team was selected for enshrinement in this year’s Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame class as the “Trailblazer of the Game.” Valerie Walker, one of the star players on the team, questioned what took so long for the team’s induction, telling the outlet, “We are very thankful, but 42 years? When you want to really understand and know about the history of women’s NCAA championships, you have to go back to the first year.”

As reported by the Knox News, in another first, Cheyney University’s staff, led by Stringer, is believed to be the first coaching staff composed entirely of Black women to compete in a women’s national championship game. Walker also spoke with the outlet about what being inducted as a trailblazer meant to her. “We’re trailblazers because they told us that we couldn’t do it. You’ve got to always talk about the first,” said Walker before alluding to the exploding popularity of women’s basketball. “You can’t talk about the NCAA Final Four unless you talk about Cheyney. Had they talked about us sooner, who knows, we might be forgotten right now. But I think the moment is now with this weekend and what’s to follow.”

Yolanda Laney, another star member of the 1982 team, told the outlet that she is glad that she has lived to see her flowers presented to her. Laney’s daughter is New York Liberty star forward Betnijah Laney-Hamilton. “It is good to get your flowers while you’re still alive,” Laney said, “because it’s been 40 years … long overdue.” Laney also reflected on her coach’s Hall of Fame career, noting that it all started at Cheyney. “Cheyney was first. Cheyney is where it all began. My teammates have told her (Stringer) and she said it herself: She’s Cheyney-made. And I know we’re the No. 1 team, since it all started there at Cheyney. She won’t say that, but we’ll say it for her.”

Walker believes that Stringer, who coached Iowa from 1983-1995, may even have brought the school a title if not for the death of her husband. Iowa has received attention over the last few years due to the play of Caitlin Clark, which Walker told Knox News brought renewed attention to Stringer and her tenure at the university. “So then they had to go back and do their research to find out, no, Iowa was really good. Had her husband not passed, I’d say Iowa might have won a Final Four or two.”

Walker continued, “She probably doesn’t get enough recognition. But the thing is, her peers know who she is. And it’s sad to say … I’m sure whenever she leaves this side of earth, she’ll get a whole lot of flowers and people will say, ‘I don’t know.’ And it’s OK.”

One person who hasn’t forgotten the impact and importance of both Stringer and Cheyney is South Carolina Gamecocks head women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley. In 2023, Staley wore Laney’s number 44 jersey during a second-round game of the women’s March Madness tournament, sparking a conversation about the team and giving the team more recognition. 

Laney told Knox News that Staley told her that wearing the jersey felt like the right thing to do. “She just said it was the right thing to do, and it was long overdue for us as far as the history that we made 40 years ago to come to light. It meant a great deal,” Laney said. “She brought a lot of light back to Cheyney’s history.”

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