Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Marianne Stanley: a Hampton Roads Sports Hall-of-Famer with an unmatched legacy at ODU

Marianne and me
She was just 12, swinging from a flagpole that overlooked a four-lane highway outside of Philadelphia. When told by a passerby, "You can't do that," Marianne Stanley's response was this.

"Watch me."

So typical of this woman, whose sense of self and confidence catapulted her into heights well above even her wildest dreams.

What an honor it was for me to induct this women's basketball legend into the Hampton Roads Sports Hall of Fame on Oct. 21 at Scope in Norfolk.

For her, it was an evening of catching up with many from Old Dominion who remember well the three teams she coached to the national championship, the last one in 1985. She looked around Scope with a gaze that suggested she was replacing all the folks in suits and ties for players with numbers, recalling that surreal experience when ODU hosted a loaded Russian national team and took a halftime lead into the locker room.

It was December 1979. Dr. J's Virginia Squires had never sold out Scope, but Stanley's Lady Monarchs did that night.

"Being back here in Scope brings back a flood of memories," said Stanley, wiping away tears.

If you've seen "The Mighty Macs," a feel-good film about Cathy Rush's success at Immaculata College,  you have some sense of the background Marianne hailed from. She grew up seeking out pickup games on the streets of Philadelphia against guys who towered over her. They weren't welcoming until they realized this:

"I could pass and I could play defense," she said.

She enrolled at Westchester State, but never attended, realizing late that the curriculum didn't match her interests. As much as she loved sports and competing, she did not want to be pigeon holed as a physical education teacher. Instead, she went to Immaculata and majored in sociology and thrived as a point guard in a sport that was in its infancy. Theresa Grentz was among her teammates and she doesn't put any qualifiers on calling Marianne the best point guard of all time.

ODU alum Wendy Larry played against Marianne when Immaculata visited the Fieldhouse. "She was  just so aware of where the ball needed to be," said Wendy, a graduate assistant to Stanley for the '85 championship

In four years at Immaculata, the Macs advanced to four national championships, a feat that Diana Taurasi fell one game shy of. The next year, Marianne was an assistant to Cathy Rush and the Macs reached the Final Four.

"We were pretty damned good," she says.

Winning was something Marianne knew about, so she wasn't daunted when, at 23 years of age, she interviewed with ODU athletic director Jim Jarrett over breakfast at a Marriott.

"I had a certain confidence about what I knew," Marianne said. "I felt like my experience was Swiss cheese: What was solid was real solid, but I had a lot to learn."

And yet she knew this, too. Jarrett was a visionary. He saw value and potential in women's sports, considered by many as nothing more than a nuisance. "There is absolutely no way I would have gotten anything more than what today is a director of operations job or a graduate assistant job with my experience. I don't know why he chose me. My life would be unrecognizable had I not come to Norfolk."

ODU went 30-4 in her first season and the next year, they finished 35-1, winning the AIAW national title in OT over UCLA in Greensboro. The next year, behind a 37-1 mark, they beat Tennessee for the second crown at Central Michigan. Stanley moved her team into the NCAA era with a 70-65 win over a favored Georgia team in Austin, Texas.

Her ODU teams won 30 or more games four times and enjoyed eight seasons of 20 or more wins.

At Tuesday's ceremony, she recalled playing at Virginia when Geno was an assistant to Debbie Ryan. Geno is now a friend, but she smiles when she says, "We went to Virginia and whipped their asses."

Other collegiate coaching jobs followed at Penn, Cal and USC, a place where she made her mark with a lawsuit that made national news. She wanted her pay to be equal to men's coach George Raveling, and after rejecting lesser offers, she was terminated. The Title IX suit she filed claiming sex discrimination was ultimately rejected in the federal court of appeals.

"I had a different kind of career," said Stanley, inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002. "I had an awful lot of success early and then had to learn how to deal with not being so successful."

She's an assistant for the Washington Mystics these days, a teacher who stills prefers practice to games. She still loves every bit of it.

I don't have a daughter, but if I did, I wish she could learn from Marianne, an unabashed trailblazer who is a role model for kids playing any sport.

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