‘If Not for Them’: Brenda VanLengen’s Journey to Document Women’s Basketball


Sportscaster Brenda VanLengen is producing a collection on girls’s basketball and ladies’s empowerment: “I see this a chance for me to say thanks to all of those that got here earlier than me, so these going ahead know on whose shoulders we stand.”

Sportscaster Brenda VanLengen interviews College of Connecticut girls’s basketball head coach Geno Auriemma. (Courtesy)

Whereas Brenda VanLengen was rising up in a small city in Nebraska, Title IX handed in 1972. She credit that piece of laws with the form of her life.

She was solely 7 years previous then, and her native highschool didn’t have women’ basketball. By the point she was 10, nevertheless, the college had added the game that might turn out to be central for VanLengen.

“I’m so lucky that [Title IX] occurred when it did,” she advised Ms. With out it, she defined, “I wouldn’t have the life that I do or the profession that I do.”

VanLengen is a TV sports activities analyst and play-by-play announcer for school girls’s sports activities. She has known as girls’s basketball video games on numerous networks corresponding to ESPN, SEC Community and the Large Ten Community for 27 years.

Following faculty, VanLengen spent a number of years teaching girls’s basketball, and in 1995, she began to name a number of video games a yr for Nebraska Public Tv. Her massive break got here when she went to observe a Kansas-Kansas State girls’s basketball sport. One of many announcers for the Fox Sports activities broadcast didn’t present up, and so she was requested to step in and do the nationwide media broadcast. So, on about 20 minutes’ discover, she made her full-game nationwide TV debut.

She’s been calling video games ever since.

She’s now additionally launched into a brand new enterprise producing a docuseries in regards to the girls who grew the game of girls’s basketball earlier than Title IX, If Not for Them.

VanLengen stated she realized that lots of the pioneers in faculty girls’s basketball have been retiring, and the demise of legendary Tennessee coach Pat Summit spurred her to begin amassing as many tales of those gamers and coaches as she might. With this yr marking 50th anniversary of Title IX, she began by specializing in the ladies who performed and coached within the ’70s and fought the early battles for Title IX—however, she stated, they advised her that the ladies within the ’50s and ’60s actually have been those who laid the inspiration for at the moment’s sport.

Within the Fifties and ’60s, pockets of the nation did present alternatives for women and girls to play basketball. These girls who did have the possibility to play, to compete, and to know the worth of sports activities for girls have been those who, when the NCAA wasn’t concerned about girls’s basketball within the late ’60s, developed their very own group, the Affiliation of Intercollegiate Athletics for Ladies (AIAW).

Earlier than AIAW, girls competed in Beginner Athletic Union (AAU) packages. Right now, many individuals have by no means heard of a few of the greatest groups of that period—just like the Wayland Baptist Flying Queens, Nashville Enterprise School or Iowa Wesleyan. VanLengen notes, nevertheless, that many of those groups have been all white, and so she can also be purposefully searching for out girls of shade who typically performed at Traditionally Black Faculties and Universities or in metropolis packages.

Marian Washington, who performed at West Chester State College, grew to become the primary Black lady to teach at a predominantly white establishment, main the College of Kansas girls’s basketball group to 11 NCAA match appearances and two Candy 16 video games throughout her 31 seasons there. She was additionally one of many first two black girls to symbolize the USA in a world basketball competitors.

VanLengen began by specializing in the ladies who performed and coached within the ’70s and fought the early battles for Title IX—however they advised her that the ladies within the ’50s and ’60s actually have been those who laid the inspiration for at the moment’s sport.

Marian Washington was the primary Black lady to teach girls’s basketball at a predominantly white establishment, the College of Kansas. (If Not for Them)

VanLengen stated there are a variety of tales that haven’t been advised that will probably be advised on this docuseries. She hopes viewers will be taught names and accomplishments and make connections to present day folks.

What created success in locations like Wayland Baptist, Nashville Enterprise School, and Iowa Wesleyan, VanLengen stated, is a champion—“somebody in these communities that cared, somebody that made issues occur.”

Wayland Baptist and Iowa Wesleyan have been the primary two faculties to supply girls’s basketball scholarships. For Wayland, a businessman with a fleet of airplanes and his spouse started to fly the group throughout the nation and supply different necessities to play.

“They set a blueprint,” VanLengen stated, that if you happen to put money into girls, if you happen to assist them, they will thrive.” Gamers from Iowa Wesleyan “piled right into a station wagon” and drove throughout the nation to play, not and not using a little envy of Wayland. The success of those faculties, VanLengen notes, raised consciousness that “girls can play basketball.”

The Flying Queens, VanLengen stated, “have been a present.” They wore satiny uniforms and flew round in airplanes. In warm-ups, they did ball dealing with routines that usually intimidated the opposite group. They realized these routines after they have been as soon as snowed in the identical resort with the Harlem Globetrotters. Their coach requested if the Globetrotters would educate them some ball dealing with methods. In order that they acquired collectively in a ballroom and realized the routines from the Globetrotters.

Wayland Baptist College’s girls’s basketball group grew to become often known as the “Flying Queens” after an area businessman began utilizing his planes to fly the group across the nation so they may face the most effective groups. (Courtesy)

With out gifting away an excessive amount of of the story, VanLengen factors out how younger girls within the early 60s went to observe these groups and even play on them at AAU championships and have been impressed to go onto their very own profitable careers in teaching girls’s basketball. Then their gamers went on to achieve success coaches. “It’s the previous ‘Should you see it, you might be it,’” VanLengen explains.

Within the early twentieth century, VanLengen factors out, bodily training lecturers themselves discouraged girls’s competitors, pondering it was not good for his or her reproductive capability or their femininity. Not till the groups of the ’50s and ’60s pushed in opposition to that perception was there a way that girls might really play ball. Excessive faculties and faculties didn’t have lots of organized group sports activities in most locations, and it took the AAU success to problem assumptions that girls couldn’t compete.

Early on, girls’s basketball was performed with six gamers, three on every finish of the court docket, due to fears that girls weren’t bodily able to working up and down the court docket. AAU performed a modified model of that by the 50s, with two rovers who performed full court docket whereas the others stayed on their half. “I suppose they thought at the very least a few girls might run up and down the complete court docket,” VanLengen laughed. Lastly, in 1969-70, girls’s faculty basketball went to 5-on-5.

VanLengen shares this story to sum up. Lucille Kyvallos, who’s celebrating her ninetieth birthday this summer season, was an excellent athlete in her personal proper who stated her skills have been wasted as a result of so little alternative was given to girls athletes. Kyvallos finally coached at West Chester State within the mid Nineteen Sixties, going 52-7. She then coached at New York’s Queens School which, below Coach Kyvallos, hosted the 1973 AIAW Nationwide Championship. Queens completed second in opposition to defending nationwide champion Immaculata College. Because the sport was in New York, it created a buzz within the New York space media, and, two years later, Queens performed Immaculata within the first girls’s faculty sport in Madison Sq. Backyard earlier than a crowd of almost 12,000.

Lucille Kyvallos coached the ladies’s basketball at New York’s Queens School which competed in opposition to Immaculata College in 1975 within the first girls’s faculty sport performed in Madison Sq. Backyard. (If Not for Them)

“Take into consideration the time,” VanLengen stated. “It was the ’70s. Billie Jean King had simply overwhelmed Bobby Riggs. It was the feminist motion. It was the time when girls’s rights have been being celebrated and fought for, and as Immaculata and Queens School went out on the court docket in Madison Sq. Backyard, Helen Reddy’s ‘I’m Girl, Hear Me Roar’ was enjoying.”

She concluded, “It was an actual leaping off level for girls’s basketball together with the Ladies’s Motion. And it happened due to Lucille Kyvallos, someone who stated her skills have been wasted.”

“There are such a lot of tales,” VanLengen stated. She hopes her effort to seize these tales throughout the nation will encourage every campus to have a look at its personal historical past and inform these tales so the efforts of those girls will not be misplaced.

Gail Marquis performed for coach Lucille Kyvallos on the Queens School girls’s basketball group. She went on to play on the U.S. nationwide group that gained silver within the 1976 Olympics. (If Not for Them)

VanLengen continues to be searching for traders to finish the undertaking. A grassroots fundraising marketing campaign has already supported filming quite a few interviews with former gamers and coaches. VanLengen hopes to supply 10 episodes, and, whereas she’s made lots of progress with grassroots funding, she’s hoping to seek out donors or corporations that wish to amplify and illuminate these tales. The tales, VanLengen stated, are about girls’s basketball on one degree, however they’re additionally about girls’s empowerment typically.

“As a result of I’ve had the profession that I’ve had, I really feel a way of obligation and simply gratitude for what I’ve been in a position to do. I see this a chance for me to say thanks to all of those that got here earlier than me and to assist protect and to share their tales so these going ahead know on whose shoulders we stand.”

You possibly can contact VanLengen by means of the ifnotforthem.com web site or by emailing her at [email protected].

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