Hall of Fame Basketball Coach Keeps Returning To Chautauqua

Tara VanDerveer, Stanford University women's basketball head coach and a 2010 Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame inductee, spoke at Jamestown Community College last week.

Basketball has taken Tara VanDerveer around the world and to some of the sport's grandest stages. After all of her travels - national championships and Olympic gold medal included - she still counts Chautauqua County as one of her favorite places.

"I've been coming to Chautauqua (Institution) since I was 8 years old so this is a very special place for me," VanDerveer said last Wednesday during a presentation at Jamestown Community College. Prior to her speech, the longtime Stanford University women's basketball coach officially accepted her induction to the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame last February.

VanDerveer has established Stanford as a crown jewel of women's college basketball in America during her 25 years at the school. A nine-time Pac-10 Coach of the Year, she has led the Cardinal to eight Final Four appearances and 18 Pac-10 championships. Over her 31-year coaching career, she has amassed a record of 793-195, along the way becoming just the seventh Division I women's basketball coach to reach 700 victories. In 2002, she was inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tenn.

VanDerveer has been defined by a love of basketball since her days as an elementary student when she would challenge the boys to games on the playground.

"As a young person I loved basketball. From the third grade on I was crazy about it," she recalled last week. "I remember my dad calling me in and saying, 'Come in the house and study your algebra, basketball is never going to take you anywhere.' I knew algebra was never taking me anywhere."

Growing up in the 1960s in upstate New York, opportunities for girls' sports in the days prior to Title IX were limited. As a teenager, VanDerveer figured her basketball days were over. Fate had a way of continually bringing her back to the game, however.

"I thought to myself, I'm 15 years old, I'm too old for basketball. I'm going to try out for cheerleading," she said.

On the day of tryouts, however, VanDerveer forgot her gym suit and borrowed one from a classmate. That suit was two sizes too small, though.

"I went for my big cheer and my whole shirt opened up," she joked. "That was the end of cheerleading."

Today, girls across the country have a hard time envisioning a time when sports were not offered to them. Sports opportunities for all is a reality thanks to the hard work of many, VanDerveer said.

"Young girls don't understand how much sports have changed and how they've impacted young people in a positive way," she affirmed. "Some of the biggest supports of Title IX are dads saying, 'I want sports for my daughter the same way I want sports for my sons.'"

The first team she ever coached was her sister's - one which routinely got blown out in games before she took the helm. Lessons learned there have followed her throughout her coaching career.

"I realized from the get-go that everyone on a team is someone's sister, daughter; brother or son," she said. "My coaching philosophy is that basketball is supposed to be fun."

She was a starting point guard while a player at Indiana University, learning future coaching skills which would come in handy watching the practices of men's basketball coach Bobby Knight. Her first coaching job came at Idaho where she spent two seasons before moving on to Ohio State for five years. The opportunity to jump to Stanford came in 1985, before the program was a power.

"When I first took the job at Stanford, my dad said, 'Don't take it, it's too tough. You'll never win at Stanford,'" she remembered. "He hung up the phone and said to my mom, 'She'll be unemployed and living with us in three months.' A lot of the motivation I have in coaching is not to go home."

Perhaps VanDerveer's greatest accomplishment on the bench came in the 1996 Olympics when she led the United States women's basketball team to a gold medal in Atlanta. Her team put together a perfect 52-0 record traveling around the world in the year prior, and an 8-0 record in Olympic play en route to gold.

"I was introduced to the team as this is not about bronze, this is not about silver, this is about gold," she said.

Most recently, Stanford reached the national championship game earlier this year, falling to Connecticut, 58-48.

"At half time we should've just gone out of the building, we were up 20-12," VanDerveer joked about her team's attempt to stop the women's basketball juggernaut UConn. She's already looking forward to a re-match on Dec. 30 when the Cardinal will attempt to earn a measure of revenge.

"It's going to be a great game. We're going to be getting them back."

In all, VanDerveer has come a long way from the days of playing pick up basketball against the boys during her summer days at Chautauqua.

"Basketball has given me so much," she said. "Coaching is a great life. I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunities I've had."

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