Dawn Staley Sets a Trailblazing Legacy for Black Women Coaches

For the third time in seven seasons, Dawn Staley, a 53-year-old Black woman from the Raymond Rosen Homes housing projects of North Philadelphia, has led her University of South Carolina Gamecocks to an NCAA national title. 

The former WNBA star also guided the Gamecocks to an unprecedented 38-0 record, becoming the 10th team in NCAA women’s basketball history to go undefeated. 

Lastly, Staley is not only the first Black head coach to help her team win three national titles but also the first Black person to lead her team to a perfect record in Division I history. 

Black female head coaches have come a long way, from emerging into NCAA basketball as players to making their marks as coaches. This groundbreaking movement started in 1973 when Marion Washington, a West Chester, Pennsylvania native, became the first Black woman to lead a Division I team as head coach for the University of Kansas women’s squad for 31 seasons until 2004. 

Twenty-six years after Washington broke the gender barrier, former Purdue University women’s coach Carolyn Peck led the 28-1 Lady Boilermakers to a national championship in 1999. She was the first Black female head coach to win a Division I title. That same season, Peck was also named the Associated Press and Naismith College Women’s Coach of the Year. 

By the 2021-2022 season, 12% of Black women in all divisions in the NCAA women’s basketball scene were head coaches.  

Many basketball fans are fully aware of Staley’s achievements as a collegiate coach and as an NCAA player. The former 5-foot, 6-inch University of Virginia point guard was a two-time Naismith College Player of the Year and took the Lady Cavaliers to three Final Four appearances despite losing in the 1991 title game against the University of Tennessee Lady Volunteers featuring late, great head coach Pat Summit. Staley was also named as that tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. She even held an NCAA record of 454 career steals before Natalie White surpassed it.

Staley was also named the Atlantic Coast Conference, United States Basketball Writers Association National and Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Player of the Year twice before graduating in 1992. Moreover, she was a five-time WNBA All-Star in eight seasons.

Although she captured nearly every achievement in collegiate and professional basketball, the four-time Olympic gold medalist doesn’t seem to allow her success to result in arrogance or ignorance toward her opponents.

She praised former University of Iowa star guard and DI all-team leading scorer Catlin Clark after her Hawkeyes fell to Staley’s Gamecocks in the women’s basketball national championship. 

“I really would just like to say that I have to congratulate Iowa (Hawkeyes) on an incredible season,” Staley said during the post-game interview moments after the game. “…I want to personally thank Catlin Clark for lifting up our sport. She carried a heavy load for our sport, and it’s not going to stop here on a collegiate tour. But when she is the No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft, she’s going to lift that league up as well. So, Catlin Clark, if you’re out there, you are one of the goats (greatest of all time) of our game! And we appreciate you.”

Fans reacted positively on Twitter when Aliyah Boston, Staley’s former player from the Gamecocks, interviewed her former coach while working as a guest analyst for ESPN. Once again, the four-time Naismith Coach of the Year’s thoughtful graciousness never wavered after Boston asked her questions mainly about the game. 

“This is a proud moment just to be on the other side of this mic,” she said to Boston. “I’m proud of your professionalism. I’m proud that you know the game so much. You are representing at the highest level. God is good to you. We (her Gamecocks) want to do it (win a national championship) for you. Because you gave basketball everything you had, and you came up short in your senior year (although Boston won with Staley in 2022). So, hopefully, we can turn the tables and win it for you.”

There’s no question that her character is purely captivating for fans and others who aren’t very enthusiastic about basketball. It’s as if she is telling everyone it’s okay to be a tremendously humble winner. 

It’s unequivocally clear that she personifies the essence of putting others before herself and holding them in high regard. It’s a demeanor that many coaches should display towards their opponents and former players. Staley is an inspiration for millions of Black girls and women who want to get into coaching. 

Her illustrious career in this sport exemplifies how far Black women have come in establishing their careers and retrieving every ounce of credibility from fans and critics. 

It’s great to say that the sky’s the limit for others who want to follow the same path she’s currently taking.

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