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 June, 2007


 A profile of Edenborn's C. Vivian Stringer

C. Vivian Stringer - Standing Tall

By Al Owens
No matter how high some people fly, their feet can easily remain firmly planted on the ground. C. Vivian Stringer seems to be one of those people.

She’s obviously been able to take her place among the most successful people of her profession, but the mere mention of Fayette County, Pennsylvania or her hometown of Edenborn provides proof she’s never gotten too far from where she gained her most valuable lessons – about how to become a winner on a basketball court, and most importantly, in life!

Stringer was born Charlene Vivian Stoner on March 16th, 1948. She, like so many young people of the 1950’s and ‘60’s in Fayette County, has a deep sense of pride about the place.

“I don’t think people realize what we had,” says Stringer during one of her busier days of recruiting for the Rutgers University Women’s basketball team. “I love Edenborn. It’s where I had the happiest days of my life.”

Of course beyond Edenborn, there have been many happy days for Stringer. She was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2001. She helped win an Olympic gold medal as an assistant coach of the 2004 U.S. Women’s Basketball team. She’s been named the National Coach of the Year three times. She is the only coach in NCAA history to lead three teams (Cheyney State, Iowa and Rutgers) to the Final Four. Her 750 wins over three decades make her the third winningest coach in women’s basketball history.

Those victories and other accomplishments were fashioned by somebody who clearly understood one thing. Hard work!
Stringer, who was one of six children, learned about that hard work naturally. Charles Stoner, her father, had been a coal miner. His work ethic rubbed off on Stringer a lot easier than the daily soot he brought home from work everyday.

But Stringer knew, like so many of us, that that soot meant a family stay fed, and that family members would be free to form the kinds of strong relationships that can exist in tiny mining towns. “I always talk about Edenborn. Those of us who come from small communities feel connected.”

Becoming a renowned women’s basketball wasn’t made easy for her, because she didn’t play a sport that even existed before she graduated from German High School in 1966. So she just played sports with her male counterparts just about everywhere else! “I played against the guys on the playgrounds. I was good enough to play, and even then I tried to coach. I would do anything to get close to a football field or a basketball court. If the ball was round or oblong, I just loved it.”

She’d already been a member of the German High School band, when she decided to become a cheerleader. She became the high school’s first black cheerleader. The first of many first’s for Stringer.

It’s not like she never followed sports in general in those days. She speaks fondly about the great high school athletes of her era. Wilfred Minor (a Uniontown High School basketball and football star, and her classmate at Slippery Rock University), the Stephens brothers (All American Sandy and his brother Ray), Stu Lantz (the future NBA star, who is the longtime broadcaster for the L.A. Lakers) – are the names she rifles off with ease when she speaks about her earliest sports memories.

But wait! She holds Joe Namath, Joe Montana, Willie Stargell and Roberto Clemente in high esteem as well. “You just felt like they belonged to you,” she beams with the ownership all sports fans have of the achievements of their heroes.
Yet, Stringer didn’t spend every hour of everyday thinking about sports. While still in school, she worked at Moss’ Supermarket. Although she knew when she got off, there would be a quick change of clothes, and she’d be off to practice tennis – another love of hers back then.
She had time to visit another one of her favorite places in Uniontown – Richey’s Bakery where she could feast on cream filled donuts. “To us, Uniontown was the big city,” she beams.

There would be time for drive-in movies (Another of her favorite things to do), to eat bags of popcorn, and to see “fright” movies. She loved seeing Boris Karloff at theatres, and “Chilly” Billy Cardilly (Cardille) on television. (She says Cardilly like he was a personal friend of hers. A sure sign she, like many of us, grew up in the 1960’s in Western Pennsylvania)

All of this reflects a woman who’s eager to take long nostalgic walks through those things that somehow led her to where she is now - a world class basketball coach, who is held in the highest esteem.

Stringer talks about the familiar coal-residue lined streets of patch life. Something she thought was everywhere, until she visited the sandy streets of Atlantic City and the Red Clay of Atlanta. She still vividly remembers her trips to Jumonville and the beautiful mountains approaching the Summit.

This past year, her Scarlet Knights, nearly won the National Championship. (losing by 7 points to the eventual champion, the Tennessee Volunteers) It still had been a Cinderella season for the team, and for Stringer. They’d lost four of their first six games of the season. They’d overcome their early adversity, no doubt, by employing something Stringer had learned as a little girl. Hard work!

A few days later she’d been pulled into a controversy by a careless remark made on national television. The entire country subsequently learned who C. Vivian Stringer was. That she was just somebody from Edenborn, Pennsylvania who’d adopted a solid work ethic early in life – and who could show dignity at a moment’s notice because of it.

C. Vivian Stringer’s biography, tentatively titled “Stepping Up and Standing Tall”, is due out in book stores next year.