Sports Illustrated: 40 Years Ago, Cheyney Advanced to the First Women’s Final Four. It’s a Story Lost to History

women's basketball coach
Image via Cheyney University.
C. Vivian Stringer directs a huddle during the 1981-82 season.

Four decades ago, Cheyney University’s basketball team played in the first NCAA Women’s Final Four. Today, the trailblazing program no longer exists, writes Ben Pickman for Sports Illustrated

The nation’s oldest HBCU and its gym, Alfred Cope Hall, were once home to dominant men’s and women’s basketball programs. The school’s 1978 men’s team won the Division II national championship, while the 1982 women’s team advanced to the Final Four of the NCAA’s inaugural women’s tournament.

Cheyney is one of only three universities that employed future Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame men’s and women’s coaches at the same time: John Chaney and C. Vivian Stringer. It is also the only HBCU to reach the Division I Women’s Final Four. 

“It wasn’t a matter of winning in Cope Hall,” said Debra Walker, a forward on the 1982 team that defeated Auburn, N.C. State, Kansas State, and Maryland in the NCAA Tournament to advance to the championship game, which it lost to Louisiana Tech. “It was how much are we gonna win by?”

This winter, however, for the second year in a row, there were no cheers for the women’s basketball team in Cope Hall. Amidst financial uncertainty and the pandemic, the university has not sponsored women’s basketball.

There is hope for the future. Tammy Bagby, the director of athletics at Cheyney, is currently looking to hire a new coach and restart the program next season. 

She is also organizing efforts to honor the historic 1982 run. As part of these efforts, Cheyney hosted a luncheon in the team’s honor last month. 

“I felt what those women did cannot go unrecognized,” said Kyle Adams, a Cheyney grad and former Lady Wolves coach. 

Adams has also been leading a movement to see the team commemorated in the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. They are also set to appear on the Naismith Hall of Fame ballot next year.

Read more about basketball at Cheyney University in Sports Illustrated

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