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Charlene Vivian Stringer—Survivor, Hero

As women, we are always faced with challenges, some big and some small. Many of us persevere and reach great heights despite overwhelming odds. There are many everyday heroes and one of them is award winning coach, Charlene Vivian Stringer. In the memoir “Standing Tall”, Stringer tells her amazing life story. Her story inspires us to find the inner strength within us.

Charlene Vivian Stringer was born in 1948 in Edenborn, Pennsylvania. She grew up in a close family. She had five brothers and sisters and they shared household chores and responsibilities. They would also have a lot of fun together playing music with their father.

Her father worked in a coal mine while her mother stayed home. Charlene’s father would always come home tired and filthy but he never complained. He always believed his children would have something better. Charlene’s father continued to work even though an injury he sustained off caused his legs to be amputated. After her father’s death, Charlene’s mother rose two the challenge and kept her family together. She got a job and was able to feed and clothe the family with much less money than they had before.

Charlene Stringer’s parents always taught her to work hard and never make excuses. They told her that this is the key to achieving everything she wanted. This lesson was tested throughout her life. Stringer was a gifted athlete and showed her strength when she fought to gain a place in an all white cheerleading squad in the 1960s.

She eventually met and married William D. Stringer and began a teaching and coaching career in 1972 at the small, historically black Cheney State College, a school outside of Philadelphia. Stringer’s team played to packed houses and became well known on the east coast. Stringer and her team advanced to the Final Four and the Wolves’ season put the small college on the map. Stringer went on to have eleven successful seasons.

As her coaching career began to skyrocket, in 1981 her fourteen month old daughter Janine was diagnosed with spinal meningitis. She would never walk or talk again. Vivian and her husband rose to the challenge and instead of dwelling on what their child would not be able to do, they looked at the possibilities of what she could do. They looked for opportunities that would give their daughter a full life.

Stringer moved to the University of Iowa and with their help, she was able to get good medical care for her daughter. While at Iowa she succeeded in turning around their struggling basketball team. The Hawkeyes played for sold out audiences and Stringer succeeded in taking them to the Final Four.

Sadly, it was during this time that her husband unexpectedly died of a heart attack one Thanksgiving morning. She left Iowa for Rutgers University and despite the devastating loss; she threw herself into her work and brought another struggling team to the Final Four.
C. Vivian Stringer struggled with many hard times. Her son David was involved in a case where a fellow classmate was shot in North Carolina and her other son was involved in a car accident and suffered a head injury. Stringer also had a bout with cancer, something she openly shares in the book for the first time.

Throughout her trials, Stinger continued to have a string of professional successes. Sport Illustrated named her one the “101 Most Influential Minorities in Sports” and she is in the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.

Her success is credited to her passion for the game and the way she nurtures and disciplines her players. She shares her struggles with them and she teaches and inspires them to be leaders. Stringer treats her players like family. It is no wonder that she led her team to respond to Don Imus’ slurs with much dignity and courage.

You do not have to be a sport’s lover to love the book, “Standing Tall”. “Standing Tall" is the story of how one woman’s enormous strength and courage allowed her to reach extraordinary heights.

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