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Record-breaking Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer on inequality in women's college sports, and hiring more women coaches

Last Updated Mar 21, 2021 9:45 PM EDT

The NCAA women's basketball tournament began Sunday in Texas and the calls for equality between men's and women's teams are growing louder.

"We need to really stick up for more than just dribbling and shooting," said Stanford women's coach Tara VanDerveer "It's bringing attention and bringing conversation and discussion and hopefully change."

And in a statement replying to inequities seen between NCAA Women's and Men's NCAA Tournament training facilities, VanDerveer said, "a lot of what we've all seen this week is evidence of blatant sexism ... women athletes and coaches are done waiting, not just for upgrades of a weight room, but for equity in every facet of life."

VanDerveer entered the record books in December as she passed Pat Summitt with win number 1,099, the most wins of any coach in women's college basketball history.

And like so many of us this past year, she marked the milestone with her 93-year old mother over FaceTime. 

"I wish you would have been here to seen it, you would have both loved it," VanDerveer told them.

It was her mother and father, both teachers, who encouraged VanDerveer's fearlessness that ultimately led to coaching. 

She's been at Stanford since 1985, where she's led her team to two national championships. And in 1996, she coached Team USA to gold.

"It's just a fun job," VanDerveer said. "You know, you meet a lot of people. I have traveled the world. I tease and say it beats working for a living."

But that type of living hasn't come easy for women. Since the passage of Title IX in 1972, the percentage of women in head coaching roles for women's NCAA sports has dropped from more than 90% to 41% by 2019. 

"Why are they dropping off? Because a lot of times, you know, administrators don't know," VanDerveer said. "They'll go, you know, they might not know a woman. So we've got to get them on the administrator's radar." 

It's why the women's sports foundation created the Tara VanDerveer Fund for the Advancement of Women in Coaching. 

Inspired by VanDerveer's legacy, it gives $200,000 each year to 10 colleges and universities across the country to support coaching fellowships for women in NCAA sports.

"This is actually a dream of mine to coach," said Mesha Levister, a VanDerveer Fund recipient.  

Levister was the first and so far only woman to play golf at North Carolina Central University.

Now she's the men's team's assistant coach, and she's starting a women's team in August.

"If I was a little girl and I saw someone coaching that looked like me, I would be more impressed and more enthused to go ahead and be a coach because some people don't think that's just an avenue that they can go down," Levister said. 

Perhaps one of the first people Coach VanDerveer inspired was her younger sister, Heidi, head coach of the women's basketball program at UC San Diego.

Heidi said her sister has a "tremendous passion for not just basketball, but for seeing other people be successful."

Something Coach Tara doesn't take for granted.

"The influence and the impact of coaching is lifelong," VanDerveer said. "And it's fun to be part of someone's life, to be an important part of someone's life.



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