The former Vivian Stoner grew up in Edenborn and graduated from German Township High School in 1966. She traveled a long hard road to success and a day after the Albert Gallatin event she was still excited about coming home.
“Without question it will be a great moment,” Stringer said. “Nothing is more personal than that, nothing is more personal. I’m so proud of the people of Edenborn and when I say Edenborn it’s really more all encompassing, it’s Edenborn, Masontown, Uniontown, Gates, Palmer, Lambert, it’s all the people of that area.”
Stringer has led a life that could be a movie script, in fact it is the basis of her best selling book ‘Standing Tall.’ Stringer grew up in a time when there weren’t any outlets in high school for women athletes. There weren’t any girl’s athletic teams at German Township when she was in school, so she became a cheerleader, but continued to play sports against the boys every chance that she got.
“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. It was the gift that God gives all of us and the passion that I had in my heart and the desire to play and to be good.”
Stringer was very aware of the great athletes that Fayette County produced during that period.
“I knew about Sandy Stephens and Bill Munsey who played at Minnesota,” Stringer offered. “Also I remember Wilfred Minor who was at Slippery Rock when I was there.”
She got her athletic opportunity as a collegian at Slippery Rock University, where she played basketball, field hockey, softball, and tennis – all of them well enough to earn entry into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame.
“I was fortunate that I got a chance to play finally,” she explained. “Slippery Rock was a great experience and I met my husband Bill Stringer there, it was special. Slippery Rock was great, I went there thinking I was going to be gymnast too, I loved it at Slippery Rock.”
When she was playing at Slippery Rock getting into coaching was the furthest thing from Stringer’s mind.
“No I didn’t even like coaching” Stringer said. “I didn’t think about that and I thought that was the most boring thing in the world. Who wanted to coach when you could play? But when I realized there were not any opportunities for me to play after college, coaching became the only way that I could involve myself in the sport. What ended up happening was I had an opportunity for a grad assistant position at Slippery Rock and I was excited. I decided to get my masters degree and I worked with my basketball coach.
“I didn’t get the same opportunities as some of my friends to coach and have a teaching position at some of the elite high schools, like Penn Hills, Latrobe or Fox Chapel and I always knew that I wanted to work and coach young people that were ready to take it to an elite level. I didn’t want to have to force people to love something like I did. It was clear to me that I needed to go where there were scholarship opportunities. Where people are going to be playing the game and where they want to play, the natural way for that to happen was to work in college. When I was getting my masters degree at Slippery Rock I contacted several universities and fortunately for me the President of Cheyney State was excited about the excitement that I had and the love that I showed for the work that I was going to do and he gave me an opportunity to teach there and I was hired really as an assistant professor. They didn’t hire me as a basketball coach and I didn’t get paid for coaching basketball the 11 years that I was there.”
But coach basketball she did and the rest is history. In 1971 Vivian’s husband Bill Stringer accepted a teaching position at Cheyney State and they both settled in at one of the nation’s first black colleges.
Stringer spent ten years at Cheyney State, her record 251-51, and includes the ground-breaking accomplishment of a finals appearance in the first-ever NCAA tournament for women. The year was 1982, and the season was marred by personal tragedy.
As Stringer was preparing her team for the NCAA showdown, her only daughter, Janine, contracted a severe case of meningitis. The child was 14 months old at the time. Stringer found herself flying back and forth between the NCAA tournament and Philadelphia, where her daughter lay fighting for life.
“The thing with me and Final Fours, I really haven’t experienced them,” Stringer admitted in Newsday. “I’ve done it, going through the movements. But in terms of experiencing all the surroundings, the Final Four was like a vacuum.” Cheyney State lost in the finals.
At Cheyney State she forged a friendship with the talented men’s basketball coach John Chaney, who had great teams at Cheyney State and later at Temple.
“He’s been my best friend and the most influential person in my life,” Stringer explained. “There is no question that anything that I know about sports and so much about people, it’s because of him. He’s a sweetheart, a warm and caring human being.”
Stringer’s accomplishments had caught the eye of the athletic staff at the University of Iowa. She was offered the head coaching job there in 1983, and she and her husband embarked for the Midwest with their three young children, David, Janine and Justin.
“Sometimes the attitude is you go backward to go forward,” Stringer stated. “Iowa was number seven from the bottom and had only won seven games ever and I came from playing for the national championship. I didn’t want to go, but Grambling football coach Eddie Robinson told me that sometimes you go backwards to go forward and that Iowa would be in the national spotlight. I didn’t want to leave Cheyney, but I did.”
In her first season at Iowa the team posted a 17-10 record, and over the next 11 years the Hawkeyes compiled ten straight 20-win seasons, appeared in the NCAA tournament nine times, and won six conference championships. Two of Stringer’s three National Coach of the Year awards were won while at Iowa, and she was named NCAA District V Coach of the Year in 1985, 1988, and 1993.
The Hawkeyes’ only Final Four appearance under Stringer brought another poignant moment in the coach’s career. On Thanksgiving Day of 1992, Stringer’s husband Bill collapsed and died of a massive heart attack.
She was at a personal crossroads.
“I very seriously thought of not working again...,” she recalled in the New York Daily News. “Athletics seems like such a contradiction between life and what happened to my husband. It all seemed like such play. But my sons helped me through that. Basketball kept some semblance of sanity. I wrapped myself up in it.”
In 1995 Rutgers University offered Stringer its head coaching job, complete with a record-breaking salary and incentives that are reported to have included home health care for her disabled daughter.
“I loved Iowa, I really did,” Stringer recalled. “But once I made the decision, there was a sense of relief.”
Stringer’s success continued in New Jersey. She has compiled a 322-160 mark in 15 seasons at Rutgers. In 39 years of coaching Stringer has an astounding overall record of 843-295 (.741). She was named Naismith National College Coach of the Year, 1982, 1988, 1993; named NCAA District V Coach of the Year, 1985, 1988, 1993; named Big Ten Coach of the Year, 1991, 1993; recipient of Carol Eckman Award and special citation from Smithsonian Institution, 1993. She has led her teams to 23 NCAA Tournament appearances. A 2009 inductee into the coveted Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Stringer is the first coach – men’s or women’s – to lead three different programs to the NCAA Tournament Final Four (Cheyney in 1982, Iowa in 1993 and Rutgers in 2000, 2007).
Looking back over her storied career, she singled out one highlight.
“I’m proud of a lot of things,” she offered. “What stands out most is perhaps the team that played for the national championship, that went to the final four in 2007, and nearly won the national championship (losing by 13 points to the eventual champion Tennessee Volunteers). I was so critical of them and the team seemed to come up short all the time and got thoroughly embarrassed. It’s because of where they came from, I wish I could give them something because I’m hurt personally that they haven’t been able to really stand on the highest level and be exalted like they deserve. Contrary to whether or not they won a national championship, it was close enough with what happened, playing for the national championship and what happened afterward with the Don Imus controversy.”
Stringer remains a tireless worker for the women’s athletics movement.
“We have a long way to go,” Stringer stated. “But we have come far, but unless were at the highest levels I’m not going to be satisfied. We’re still working at it, and I’ll continue to work hard to see to it that women’s basketball is received and welcomed and embraced at the highest level.”
A true pioneer in women’s athletics, wherever she goes Stringer carries home Fayette County with her.
“I never lost my roots,” Stringer stated. I never did and I never will.”