Vivian Stringer: 'Standing Tall'
By Michelle Wilson
The 700 Club
She was a small town girl with big dreams; not the fantasies most little girls have, like becoming a princess or ballerina. No, Vivian Stringer thought of one thing day and night; basketball.
"I used to wonder why is it when I hear a ball bounce and the sneakers on the floor, I would just get excited,” Vivian said.
Now, she’s living her dream -- as the third winningest coach in basketball history. And she’s the only coach to lead three different collegiate schools to the final four. Vivian credits God and family for her success. .
“Our parents taught us love, devotion, discipline, respect for one another,” she said, “and basically held to the Bible tenants.”
She played four years for Cheyney State University in Pennsylvania. At age 22, she became the youngest coach of Cheyney State's women's basketball team. During that time, she and her husband also started a family. Their first child was a boy named David. Nine months later they had a little girl named Nina.
“All we really wanted in this life was what we perceived as the American dream. A white picket fence, a son and a daughter, and live happily ever after,” Vivian said. Her life seemed ideal.
With coach Stringer on the sidelines, Cheyney’s average team became unstoppable. She took them to the first ever NCAA Championship in 1982. But the celebration was silenced one night when Vivian’s daughter had a seizure.
While the team fought for the championship, Vivian sat in the hospital, watching her 14-month-old daughter fight for her life. She was diagnosed with spinal meningitis.
“She was never the same,” Vivian said. “She would never walk or talk or move again. There were stages that I have gone through. And you know, I questioned and I was angry. But at the end of the day it’s the faith you can have, the relationship that you can have with the Lord that will get you through life’s tough battles."
Two years later, Vivian and Bill welcomed their third child, Justin.
After that, Coach Stringer’s career skyrocketed when she began coaching at the University of Iowa. She brought her golden touch with her. Iowa went to the NCAA Championship in 1993.
But again, tragedy overshadowed her victory. Her husband had died just five months earlier.
“He had had a massive heart attack,” Vivian said. “We rushed to the hospital. The ambulance came. I just remember the doctor coming out and explaining that he was so sorry.”
“Everyone deals with tragedies,” Vivian said. “It’s how you recover. How do you recover? Because I’m still not, I mean I know that the pain is less, but you never forget.”
Coaching basketball didn’t seem important anymore.
“I didn’t have the energy,” Vivian said. “I looked back on my life and just reflected and I thought, ‘I can’t go on. I can’t- I can’t make it.’ The only way I could have gotten through these events is with confidence, trust, faith and love in my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Vivian moved her family to New Jersey and began coaching at Rutgers University. She led the Lady Scarlet Knights to the NCAA Final Four in 2000, and again in 2007.
Vivian’s victory was overshadowed by controversy. The team’s success was eclipsed by offensive comments from radio host Don Imus.
“What he said with the microphone, I found to be so hurtful and demeaning to, one, all women, specifically black females,” Vivian said.
Imus apologized to the team.
Despite the constant struggles in her life, Coach Stringer has learned to persevere. She says God gives her the strength to make it through hard times.
“I’ve come to know that no matter how tough things are, if I am standing here to tell you about it, I am blessed. Because whether I realized it or not, I have been carried. I was being carried,” she said.
Coach Stringer has written about her life’s tragedies and triumphs in her book, Standing Tall. Her exemplary talent and solid trust in God has made her a basketball legend.
“Jesus is my Lord and Savior. And He's my refuge,” she said. “He’s the person that I can always count on, the person who I quietly talk to when no one else is there -- the person who will give me strength to handle the most difficult of situations. And that I know is championing me to be able to speak to others." Can God change your life?
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