The University of Kansas took time this weekend to honor legendary coach Marian Washington and her impact on the Jayhawks that can still be felt decades after her career. If Not For Them Executive Producer Brenda VanLengen was there, serving as emcee for the celebration and highlighting the achievements of Washington from her days at West Chester to KU and the Olympics.
Washington was interviewed for the docuseries in October 2021.
Washington played basketball at West Chester State College where she was a member of the team that won the first college women’s basketball championship in 1969 with Carol Eckman at the helm. She also caught the attention of the USA National Team coach and became one of the first two African-American women to play for the National Team, playing in the 1971 World Championship. She continued training with the U.S. Olympic Development Program in anticipation of the 1972 Olympics, but the IOC elected not to add women’s basketball which was devastating to Washington and her teammates.
Washington, however, was also an elite track and field star, recognized as one of the best in the United States at shot and discus. So, she moved to Lawrence to meet the coach of four-time Olympic gold medalist Al Oerter.
In 1973, at just 27 years old, she was hired as the Head Women’s basketball coach and the Women’s Athletic Director at the University of Kansas. She was the first Black woman hired as Head Coach at a predominantly white institution and as the Women’s A.D., she started the women’s track program in addition to overseeing all women’s sports.
Washington found success early coaching basketball, taking the Jayhawks to the AIAW tournament four times before the NCAA took control of women’s sports in 1982. During the NCAA era, she continued her success, winning seven conference championships, and six conference tournament championships. She also made 11 NCAA Tournament appearances in her time at Kansas. She finished with 560 victories in 31 years.
Washington reconnected with the Olympic team in 1996 when she was selected as an Assistant Coach for the team that won the gold in Atlanta.