Anyone who has ever seen a women’s basketball game at any level high school or above knows it takes a lot of work from everyone associated with the team to win a game. There are no exceptions to this. Even supposed “cupcake” games follow years of work to get the top dog to its current state. Furthermore, those who follow favorite teams know that most coaches are gone pretty darn quick. So on Tuesday when Uconn’s Geno Auriemma and North Carolina’s Sylvia Hatchell both won, it was a commendable enough act in and of itself. But it also was, improbably, the 1000th career win for both of them, making the two the seventh and eighth college coaches to reach the milestone. Auriemma and Hatchell should, of course, be congratulated for decades of hard work to make their programs into historic powers. But Tuesday’s milestone is more than a curiosity of the record books. It offered fans an opportunity to give duly deserved praise for something too hard to find today: those who genuinely labor for womens’ advancement in American society.
Auriemma’s Huskies have been such a machine the last five years that when the coach entered this year with 991 wins, it was very easy to circle game #9 as the day of destiny. But Hatchell had ample reason to quit a few years ago. As ESPNW’s Mechelle Voepel points out, Hatchell had already accomplished much when she was diagnosed with leukemia in 2013. But according to Voepel, there was no question about battling to recover and return to the sidelines. And it was for the right reason: for more. Not more wins or money, but because American women need more champions who care.
While the #metoo movement may have caught many men off guard, the wave of accusations are hardly new. The National Sexual Violence Resource recently reported that one in five women will be raped in their lifetime. Certainly #metoo is sparking conversations about an extremely serious issue, and that’s a positive development. But I worry that, in the grand scheme of things, it will be just a fad. After every hurricane disaster in the era of 24/7 news, to illustrate the issue, viewers lose interest far, far before the city is actually rebuilt. It seems today that no one can bother to work to solve an issue beyond a brief outburst of feigned righteous indignation. So those few who make it their life’s work to fight for women in sports are even more inspiring.
Some argue that sports is an Orwellian dream for corrupt leaders, who appreciate the inane distraction while they destroy a country’s infrastructure of justice. But I think the most inspiring sports leaders are making a huge positive impact, dropping a boulder to disrupt the sea of injustice. It’s easy to measure some aspects of Auriemma’s and Hatchell’s success. In my experience, however, the positive effects of making a difference in someone’s life are without limits. Yes, one can count how many young women played for the two coaches. But one can’t measure how much they learned by mastering a team-oriented game, or the influence they then made in their lives after basketball.
Very often mean spirited fans try to belittle the accomplishments of those in women’s sports. But in the case of Tuesday’s double accomplishment, these arguments are downright bizarre. I’ve seen some fans complain that Hatchell “hasn’t won enough in the playoffs”. But this is a strange twisting of the cause-and-effect of college basketball. Playing a sport is a means to an ends to developing as an individual person and contributor to larger groups. The vast majority of this development will take place in practice and the regular season. The playoffs are really just a made-for-TV fling to keep fans entertained, and they’re over in a week for most teams. A coach who’s been around for 30 years is obviously doing something right. There’s simply no need to squint at brackets from decades ago to measure her worth.
For “Geno”, fans say the Huskies are so stacked that any moron could win with his roster. Auriemma himself admitted, actually, that he was extremely overconfident when first arriving in Storrs. It took a lot of hard work by him and his assistants to make the awful Huskies passably competitive. His success wasn’t the result of a stroke of, or possession of, amazing genius. Instead, it came from years of learning how to deal with difficult learners and making them work well with her teammates. Furthermore, I would argue this is a lazy characterization. Truth is, other programs recruit equally as well as, if not even better than, Uconn. But Auriemma seems to have some sort of a knack to get the most out of his recruits. Thankfully he’s has never cared what others say about him, so these fans are just wasting money on their electric bill by spending time writing such comments.
Any source of yellow journalism can point out a major problem facing America. Readers cry “well that’s not right!”, and then never hear about the issue again. But in basketball, from the the top down (the NBA doing more than its share to help women’s hoops) to the bottom up (Title IX providing a huge boost for girls in high school ball), much progress has been made to give a girl a chance to follow her dream, even if some in the darker crevices of social media don’t like it. And somewhere in between, the good trickled both up and down Tuesday to give two coaches a momentous mark. It wasn’t easy to get to 1,000 wins for Auriemma and Hatchell. The road ahead for those who wish to follow isn’t easy either. But two trailblazers at least marked the path, and the sun is finally starting to rise on the horizon ahead.