Cheyney State's Lady Wolves went 25-5 last season and made it all the way to the NCAA Final Four before losing 82-73 to Tennessee in the semis. Let's listen in as a successful big-time women's coach, Cheyney State's Winthrop McGriff, and the school president, C.T. Enus Wright, hammer out the team's budget for 1984-85:
"I think the girls need new uniforms," says McGriff, 34, an immense—6'3", 250 pounds—and animated fellow in his second season with the Lady Wolves.
"Hmmm," says Wright. "Let's see how the old ones are holding up."
McGriff lumbers out of Wright's office and comes back with a boxful of game uniforms. They were new in 1974, but Wright examines each piece of clothing as if he were appraising objets d'art. He holds up to the light a pair of shorts with faded blue side stripes. "O.K.," he says. "This pair's had it."
That's one for McGriff. Now Wright inspects a jersey, from which the CHEYNEY STATE appliqué has been all but chafed away. "This one has a few games left in it," Wright says. McGriff grimaces. Another singlet is four shades bluer than any of the others. "Why, this one's as good as new," says Wright. He continues until nine of 12 uniforms have been pronounced fit for one more season.
Wait a minute. This seems more like a bankrupt high school program than an NCAA semifinalist. Why is Cheyney State, a school whose team has ranked with the likes of USC and Georgia, throwing around nickels and dimes as though they were manhole covers? Because that's the way things must be at Cheyney, an institution with 1,800 students, most of them black, located some 30 miles outside Philadelphia. "We're held together with Krazy Glue and Band-Aids," McGriff says. And sewing machines.
Cheyney State offers no athletic scholarships to men or women. Every player, however, receives some sort of need-based grant-in-aid. Each also pitches in doing on-campus jobs, like tending the grounds or waiting on tables. "There are no magic-carpet rides," says McGriff. "Most of the girls could have gotten athletic scholarships at other schools, but they're here because they want to be."
Why? It certainly isn't the athletic facilities. "You mean the a-reen-a?" McGriff says with a sonic boom of a laugh. He shoves open the door to a shabby gym that seats 2,500 people. One gets the feeling that a sock hop might break out at any minute. Clearly, playing for the Lady Wolves means learning to live with austerity. Training-table meals? "Every game," McGriff says. "Macaroni and cheese, chicken and broccoli. Blech!" Travel? "Well..." he says, "if someone invites us somewhere, we'll take the big bird." That is, as long as the host is willing to pick up the airfare. "Otherwise, vans."
McGriff is assisted part time by Jacqueline Thompson, a math teacher at Olney High in Philly. She and McGriff share a cinderblock office that is nothing more than a glorified broom closet. On the desk, buried beneath stacks of papers, is-a black telephone, the Cheyney State recruiting tool.
"Money isn't everything," says forward Ann Strong. "It can't buy togetherness. We have togetherness. It can't buy fun. We have fun. And there's heart out there. We want to win. Very badly."
There's also a strong women's basketball tradition at Cheyney, dating from 1973, when Vivian Stringer arrived from Slippery Rock and brought life to the Lady Wolves. Before the 1983-84 season Stringer moved on to coach the women at Iowa. "We were used to doors being shut to us," Stringer says of her years at Cheyney. "But we never sat down and said 'Poor me.' We learned to fight." Stringer's result: a 251-51 record and seven trips to postseason tournaments.
McGriff, who had spent seven years coaching the boys' team at Piscataway (N.J.) High and one year as the wornens' coach at the University of the District of Columbia, adopted Stringer's credo when he took over last year. "When you don't have the money," he says, "you take advantage of the things that you do have." To McGriff, that's a sense of family. The McGriff clan—which used to consist of Winthrop, his wife, Esther, and their infant daughter, Wendy—now has grown by 12 Lady Wolves. "It's a trip," the coach says.
He describes a journey to a game at Northern Illinois that was, well, a trip. "I told the girls, 'Dress warm,' " he says. "Did they? No. They showed up with these tight little pants that stop way above the ankle, little flimsy jackets and fancy shoes. They said, 'Coach, we got to look good!' " That evening, McGriff scoured the Northern Illinois campus in DeKalb looking to borrow space heaters. "And did you know that every player has her own music box?" McGriff says, stunned. "And they never play the same songs. Twelve boxes, 12 songs. I hand out meal money on the road. Do we stop at McDonald's? No! They all run over to the Sav-All to load up on batteries for the boxes."
When McGriff's not coaching he's a delight. Inside a gym, he has the congeniality of a rabid dog. But the Lady Wolves had better get used to snarling enemies. Gone from last year's roster are All-America forward Yolanda Laney, center Sharon Taylor and guard Margaret Diaz, who combined for 54.8 points a game. The only returning starter is Strong, who averaged 10.4 points. McGriff is depending on 5'6" senior Paulette Bigelow and 6'3" center-forward Debbie Thomas to take up the slack. Thomas "will pop some eyes," McGriff says. She certainly did last season against Morgan State when she had 12 points, 18 rebounds and six blocked shots off the bench.
"We always have to prove ourselves," says McGriff. He has a point. The Lady Wolves have never been handed a preseason Top 10 ranking. "Go ahead," McGriff says. "Put us at the bottom of the totem pole. We'll climb right to the top.
"Look at Columbo," he says, referring to the television detective. "He wears that beat-up raincoat and drives that beat-up car. But he gets the job done." McGriff, dressed in baggy sweats, walks over to his own car, a 73 Chevy Caprice wagon. It has been overhauled four times, the left rear door has no handle, the tail pipe droops and the whole thing lists crazily to starboard. McGriff pats the heap lovingly on the hood. "Now I ask you," he says. "Do you think Columbo would be nearly as effective if he drove a brand-new Cadillac?"
With McGriff in the driver's seat and the lady Wolves on the bus, who needs anything more?" "Money won't buy togetherness," says one player.
Hungry Wolves in a practice (left to right): Dorothea Martin, Lisa Postell and Monique Tompkins.
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