C. Vivian Stringer

by Kathy Crockett
The My Hero Project

 (Scarlet Knights, Women's Basketball)
(Scarlet Knights, Women's Basketball)

Coach Vivian Stringer doesn’t give up easily; for her adversity is simply an opponent to defeat. Just a quick glance through Stringer’s list of awards and achievements reveals a pattern of wins and much improved teams; and speaks volumes about Stringer’s place in women’s history, sports history, and Black history. Sports Illustrated named her one of the "101 Most Influential Minorities in Sports," and she has been named National Coach of the Year three times. Whatever her title, her skills and passion for the game radiate from her place on the court sidelines. She has turned her love of the sport into a career and an opportunity to help underdogs come out on top, which she has done consistently with every team she has coached. Stringer was the first coach to bring three teams to the NCAA Final Four, and is only the third women’s basketball coach to push past the 700 wins marker.

 (Scarlet Knights, Women's Basketball)
(Scarlet Knights, Women's Basketball)

Since 1995, Vivian Stringer has been the head coach for the Rutgers’ Women’s basketball team. When she arrived in New Jersey, her three children in tow, and the loss of her husband heavy in her heart, she had to contend with picking up a lackluster team and rebuilding a life for her family. Her reputation and ability to take a struggling team and turn it into a champion was already widespread at the time. With a combination of caring, community involvement, and an unwillingness to have her players achieve anything less than the best, Stringer gave the Scarlet Knights an edge that eventually took them to winning the Final Four. Now a perennial national contender for any of the big NCAA tournaments, Rutgers attracts the best female basketball players in the country.

Even putting aside game statistics, Vivian Stringer is a competitor and winner in many arenas. Stringer is the leader, an inspiration, and a role model for her players, just as she is for her own children. Her teams are filled with much more than competitive spirit; each group of women becomes a family, playing alongside each other, working in the community, and sharing their skills with younger, aspiring basketball players. These women not only learn how to play great basketball, but they also learn how to tackle their own personal challenges with spirit and assist others facing challenges as well.

 (Scarlet Knights, Women's Basketball)
(Scarlet Knights, Women's Basketball)

Perhaps Stringer's family strategy started during her first years at Cheyney State University, where she served as coach, mother figure, cook, and fundraiser for a team that received very little funding from the university. The 11 seasons she spent at Cheyney created an extended family for coach and players alike, and launched Stringer into national recognition, as this little-known, sparsely funded, small team went on to defeat bigger, well-known teams, eventually arriving at the Final Four.

Close family ties and a cooperative, enduring spirit had roots much earlier than Stringer’s first appearance on the college basketball court. Stringer (whose maiden name is Stoner) came from a family who has always stuck together and persevered through tough times. In her hometown of Edenborn, Pennsylvania, she shared chores and responsibilities with her five brothers and sisters. They also came together to play music with her father, who although passionate about his music, had to support his family with a job working in the coal mines of Pennsylvania. Everyday, Vivian would watch her father come home and carefully clean out the soot and grit from his fingernails, never complaining, but believing that his kids would have a better future. She saw her father carry on with work and family when both of his legs had been amputated, after an injury caused gangrene to set in. And when her father died, Vivian watched another hero in the family rise to the challenge. Her mother picked up the pieces of her family, got a job, and managed to feed and clothe her family on much less than the had before.

 (Scarlet Knights, Women's Basketball)
(Scarlet Knights, Women's Basketball)

Family strength, resourcefulness, and the ability to overcome any obstacle has helped Stringer’s basketball teams--and also her own family. When childhood meningitis left her middle child, daughter Janine, with special needs, Vivian and her husband Bill took the challenge in stride. Instead of looking at what would not be possible for their daughter, they looked at the possibilities that existed and found ways to bring her a full life. With the help of The University of Iowa, which offered her a position as coach to take another underdog to the top, and also gave her daughter the best medical attention available. During the time that she was coaching the Iowa Hawkeyes and revolutionizing women’s basketball with unprecedented game attendance (including some sold-out venues) and another try in the Final Four, Vivian’s own husband died tragically and unexpectedly from a heart attack. It may have been the most defeating and devastating event in her life; but she picked herself up and held her family together, even without the other half that she was so tied to.

After Bill’s death, Vivian delved even deeper into her passion, and struggled to take care of three young children. Vivian needed to find a way to continue success in both arenas, so she moved from her twelve-year position at Iowa to Rutgers University in New Jersey, where she could return to her roots and be closer to her family. Once again, she found herself charged with turning around a struggling team, and, once again, she turned underdogs into national champions.

 (Scarlet Knights, Women's Basketball)
(Scarlet Knights, Women's Basketball)

She has brought the Scarlet Knights to NCAA tournaments in six of the past seven seasons; overall, her teams have made 17 appearances at these final match ups. As assistant coach for the 2004 U.S. Olympic Team, she saw the women’s basketball team bring home the gold medal from Athens, Greece. Although many of her wins and achievements can be traced to her dynamic plays and innovative strategies, her passion for the game and caring for her players is truly what has transformed her underdogs into solid, winning teams. Even as a young child, when told that girls should not play basketball, Vivian Stringer kept her passion and fought for her time on the court; she is proof that underdogs really can win and childhood dreams really do come true.

Page created on 8/17/2014 11:46:57 AM

Last edited 1/6/2017 11:43:53 PM

The beliefs, viewpoints and opinions expressed in this hero submission on the website are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs, viewpoints and opinions of The MY HERO Project and its staff.

Related Links

The Scarlet Knights, Women's Basketball - The official home page to Rutger's University's women's basketball.
C. Vivian Stringer - MY HERO story by Richard Kent

Extra Info

Coach Stringer in Action...

"This is a Game Ladies" is a PBS film documentary that follows the Scarlet Knights Women's Basketball team and their coach, C. Vivian Stringer through nearly two years of practices, games, and life. You can watch short videos of Coach Stringer's pep talks before the Final Four and shares her goals and mission for Women's Basketball. There are also links to more articles on Stringer and the Final Four.
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