Lynette Woodard was born and raised in Wichita, Kansas and grew up with four siblings. Growing up Lynette became very interested and fascinated with basketball after watching her cousin, who played for the Harlem Globetrotters, dominate in basketball games. She watched him knowing that one day that would be her and she would be out on the court making a name for herself. At an early age Lynette began to practice and develop her game so she could achieve her dream of playing basketball. By the time Lynette reached high school she was playing varsity basketball and breaking a multitude of records. She even helped lead the team into winning two state championships. By 1984, Lynette earned herself a spot on the USA Olympic women’s basketball team. She was captain of the team and they even brought home the gold medal. Lynette has achieved so much in her lifetime and is a true motivator and role model for so many young women.
China: We are privy to have the first female athlete win so many medals and break so many records sit down with us for this interview. Let me just say this, she is a Hall of Famer. Being inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2004, and then going on to be inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame 2005. She is two-time Olympian and a four-time All-American. I could just go on and on about her success and achievements. I am excited and honored to present Lynette Woodward.
Lynette: Hey, thank you so much China. I am happy to be speaking with you.
China: Please tell our readers a little bit about your basketball background.
Lynette: In my family, I have a brother and sister that are older than I am, then I have a sister that is younger than me. Then my brother and I are closest in age. So, I have four siblings in total. My older brother would always create the games that we played. He had this game where we would roll our socks up together and then he would have one basket and I had the other basket. Those baskets were usually the bedroom door and the closet door, and they were adjacent to one another. We would pretend to dribble and then we would shoot socks at the doors. If the sock went by behind the flat of the door that counted two points so that was our first basketball game if you will. A lot of kids today they have Nerf balls, but my siblings and I started with socks and we made that thing work. When our parents figured out we were trying to play basketball they bought us a hoop and a basketball. They kicked us out of the house and let us play basketball for real in the backyard.
China: Please share a little bit about your career in basketball starting with High School then a little about College and then being able to make it over to Italy.
Lynette: For me, it’s just been a total blessing. I give all honor and praise to God because when I was playing, I couldn’t see anything before me. You know like now if you started out as a young player today you can aspire to go to college and eventually play in the WNBA. There are a lot of different leagues now a days, but when I was coming up I mean it was barely a bucket for a woman to have a space to play. Title nine is very helpful in creating opportunities for women, but I didn’t have a dream of going to college because there were no scholarships for women’s basketball by the time I got to the University of Kansas. While attending, I was the first woman to receive a scholarship that paid solely for me. A year prior ten ladies on the University of Kansas women’s team had one scholarship split between all of them. They basically only got books, but I glad it changed when I got there because I couldn’t afford to go to school. I would have had to work, go to class, and play basketball. I just think I would not have been able to focus if I had not have gotten that scholarship. I’m thankful that things started to open up around the time I was headed there. After college there was nowhere to go but I heard about a league starting to happen my junior year. It was called the WUBL. But by the time I became a senior that league had folded but there was still hope because there was talk of another league that would be coming up soon. Sadly that league did not make it either. I thought about going overseas and play, but it never really happened. I started getting used to the idea of not being able to play after college and I told myself to just stay focused, pray, and know that the Lord will open the door when it was time to. After so many doors closing in my face and almost all opportunities to play ball after college gone; God finally allowed me to be able to play for the US team. I was a part of the Pan-American games. I was a part of the 1980’s Olympic team. The 1980’s team did not go to the Olympics because the US boycotted the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union. But I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to come back in 1984. We played in Los Angeles and was able to win the gold medal. It truly worked out in the end, but a lot of my…not teammates but a lot of the other athletes and other disciplines weren’t able to make it that far. I feel very fortunate to be able reach that level of playing in the Olympics and that I was able to have such a great career.
China: The story that you just shared with us Miss. Woodward really put in perspective a person that never gave up, continually prayed, and had faith that God was going to make it happen.
Lynette: Yeah, you really do have to have faith and you have to just listen. I mean I have that drive and I knew that drive came from somewhere. I would always say Lord you know you gave me this love for the game and you brought me this far. I just can’t believe this is the end and so I just stepped out on my faith and my prayers were answered. I was able to transfer that faith into other things in my life you. Sometimes you just got to go for it, you never know what’s going to change from one day to the next. Like when I went to the Olympics the women’s basketball team got a ton of exposure. But what we didn’t know was that the management team of the Harlem Globetrotters was in the crowd watching us play. With the Globetrotters being innovators of the game they always want to do something new and different. So you know I’m here playing my game and management was sitting in the crowd watching us play and having thoughts of adding a female player to their team. It is so crazy how things happen just at the right time and it’s amazing how it all came together in the end.
China: A lot of females are becoming the ‘first’ to do something. We are stepping up to the plate out here, right? Being that you were one of the pioneers of this movement can you tell us about how stressful and emotional it was trying to make a way for women in such a male-dominated sport?
Lynette: Yes, well first of all it starts with a dream. You know you have something in your heart you want to achieve, and you’re looking at that dream and you’re saying to yourself well I can do that. Then you just move into this spirit of knowing that you have to do this. Because in the spirit you don’t think male or female you just think I’m going to do this thing. That was one of the things that I noticed and I knew that in basketball it was mostly all guys. But it didn’t really phase me. I saw the game of basketball and I knew that I could blend my skills with the men’s and that I wouldn’t miss a beat. That’s where I kept my focus and as far as having stamina and being able to run with them I knew I had to get in shape in a way that I had never been. I was unsure of what I could do and where I would start. I was able to find a guy that I could run with and I knew he could help me get to where I needed to be stamina wise. Now I was never able to beat him in a race, but during the process of training I was able to close the gap a great deal. I was able to get in shape like I had never been in before, and I could run for extended periods of time while I was on the court. I was able to outrun a lot of the ladies I played against, and I was able to do all the fancy ball handling and shots. The artistry that men have on the court came natural for me. We were ambassadors for the game and that was fun for me to interact with the public and see the faces of the people who were amazed at all of artistry that we showed while on the floor.
China: Wow, I bet it was. Thank you for sharing that with us. When you are blessed with talent as great as this sister has been blessed with you cannot help but to marvel and enjoy the artistry and show you put on while on the court. It is not often that we get to applaud ourselves for the achievements that we have made so let’s take a moment and really applaud Miss. Woodard for all that she has done
.Lynette: Thank you China!
China: When it comes to what’s going on with youth today compared to back in the day how are these kids dealing with their options and having help from outside groups or older adults?
Lynette: Well, first of all, I am a currently a coach at Winthrop University located in Rock Hill, South Carolina. We are known for academics and we are called The Harvard of the South. The study body is 40 percent African American and we carry that percentage with pride and honor. When I recruit youngsters, first and foremost you have to be a student, you have to work hard, and then you can be a good athlete. If you can bring those things to the table then we can work on the rest. But you have to have good work ethics and we will guide you the rest of the way. You have to learn in sports how to be fair and good sportsmanship. So you don’t want to cut corners especially if it’s only going to cost you down the road. We teach those life skills that can carry over and when you leave this University you’re not only a better person, but you’re a better person in your community and in the workforce. We hope to teach these youngsters and help them learn to deal with how to win, how to lose, how to pick yourself up, and how to keep going. Those are important things to know in the game of sports. This gives you a confidence in yourself and teaches you that if you work hard good things can happen for you. That’s really what life is all about.
China: Being who you are, how is it for you to be somewhere and have a young lady come up to you and say she dreams of having the type of career that you’ve had?
Lynette: Well, yeah it really makes me feel very . . . l feel a sense of joy when that happens. My name is Lynette and I was told that it means encourager and that’s what I like to do. I like to encourage people along my journey, especially young people. If _I get a chance to speak and pour into the youth I use that opportunity to tell them to dream and believe in what they are doing. I also tell them to never quit and that just brings a smile to my face because everybody needs encouragement at some point in life. If you could just say the right words at the right time especially if that person is running low on hope and they need an extra push or pat on the back. That extra push will just get you going again and get you ready to overcome any obstacles you may face. That’s what we’re here for to inspire and encourage one another so that we can be the best that we can be.