Bessie Stockard is turning 90 this weekend and we thought it was the perfect time to tell a little bit more of her incredible story. Stockard is perhaps best known as the first African American woman to serve on a U.S. National Team coaching staff, but that is just part of her impact on the history of women’s basketball.
Stockard grew up in Nashville, Tenn., and began playing basketball in high school. She went on to play varsity basketball and tennis at Tuskegee University, where she was later inducted into the Hall of Fame.
In the fall of 1969, Stockard started the Federal City Pantherettes women’s basketball team. The Pantherettes gained recognition over the next few years by playing in the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW). The team was considered one of the top teams in the country after defeating powerhouse programs Immaculata and Maryland in the same season despite not having a home gymnasium. The Pantherettes even reached the AIAW National Championships in 1975 where they fell to eventual champion Delta State in the opening round.
During her tenure with the Pantherettes, Stockard also coached women’s volleyball and cheerleading, and ran the tennis and softball clubs. Federal City is now the University of the District of Columbia.
The following year, Stockard served as an assistant coach for the U.S. women’s national team as it prepared for the 1976 Olympics. It was the first year that women’s basketball was included. Though she didn’t help coach the team in Canada, but she was invited to join the television broadcast of the 1976 Olympics.
Stockard also enjoyed a professional tennis career competing in both the American Tennis Association and Virginia Slims Circuit. She won 12 ATA national titles in her career.
If Not For Them Executive Producer Brenda VanLengen had the pleasure of sitting down with Stockard in August and the two discussed Bessie’s experiences growing up in rural Tennessee as well as the barriers she helped break down later in her career.