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  • Writer's pictureTopher Enneking

Thank You To Lynette Woodard: The OG All Time High Scorer

One of the coolest things about stats is how they can connect us to our past. Currently, Caitlin Clark is at the center of the American sports world. Her passion and ferocity have inspired many and her career points milestone has drawn attention. But even in the passing of Kelsey Plum's NCAA scoring record, we are reminded of the other basketball greats that preceded Caitlin.

After passing Plum many started looking toward pistol Pete Maravich, whose remarkable 43 points a game average have him as the men’s career points leader. Fortunately, this attention has also reminded everyone of Lynette Woodard, and her impact on women’s basketball in America.

A product of Wichita, Kansas Lynette Woodard took her talents to the University of Kansas. Woodard arrived at a time when women’s basketball wasn’t even being recognized by the NCAA. Female leaders like Woodard’s coach Marian Washington had to carve a path for themselves by organizing, the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women or AIAW. Playing for Washington, Woodard was able to amass 3649 career points. Though, because the NCAA hadn’t taken over women’s basketball yet, her records are not officially recognized. Fortunately, even 40 years down the road, Woodard is finally getting her flowers.

Never averaging less than 20 points a game in any of her seasons. Woodard was a true phenom. Explosive and dynamic with one of the most graceful finger role finishes you could ever see. As a kid growing up in Lawrence, I was fortunate enough to get to feel a part of Lynette‘s career. I remember wearing a T-shirt that had an image of her from the 1984 Olympics that I wore proudly. With the coverage and fanfare Clark is seeing today it can be hard to remember back to those times when Trail Blazers like Lynette Woodard stood on stage. In 1984 only six nations sent a women’s basketball team to the Olympics. Today there has to be a qualifying tournament, so that the field of participating nations can be narrowed.

Two years after winning Olympic gold Woodard returned to Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas as a Harlem Globetrotter. Not only did her graceful play, but her dynamic style shined. Wearing a multitude of red white and blue arm and wrist bands Woodard was impossible to miss. Amidst some of the most skilled basketball athletes, she still was able to stand out and be a star unto herself.

Woodard wasn’t finished in the 80s. Even though there were no domestic professional leagues for women to play basketball in, Woodard stayed connected to the game and in 1997 at the age of 38 years old she was drafted in the first ever WNBA draft. A true legend, long before the era of longevity in athletics, before sports science, nutrition, and injury Recovery had advanced Woodard was the kind of natural who seemed like she could play forever. This past week. Pictures were taken of her attending a Jayhawks women’s game, and she did some of her old Globetrotter tricks for the team. I wouldn’t doubt if she could pick up the ball and put down buckets today at the age of 64. 

This is the beauty of sports and stats. Thinking about a woman playing basketball in Iowa in the 21st-century can make me feel like a kid in the 80s watching his hero float through the air. Clark’s prowess will undoubtedly propel her past Lynette scoring title, but let’s all remember to take a moment to acknowledge those who paved the way for these great achievements. For although Caitlin Clark will likely score more points than Lynette Woodard did in college, she’ll never do it before the NCAA acknowledges women’s sports. She’ll never do it while having to navigate life after college with no professional opportunities until you make them yourself.

In sports so often, meaningful work goes unseen. Whether it be time in the weight room, at practice in your backyard shooting, or working on ball handling. The things that make champions rarely get seen by others. The same is true of the work put in by these great sports pioneers like Lynette Woodard, and Marian Washington. The work that they put in didn’t get seen by everyone but fortunately those of us who still remember can share the stories of their brilliance, so that we all can remember, the court doesn’t start off a level playing field, it has to be made that way.

Thank you Lynette for making our world a more fair place. For making our world one in which the value of our humanity can be seen no matter what skin or body we are in, for making it a place where a little boy in Kansas might think that one day he could grow up to be a Harlem globetrotter just like his hero. And thank you for reminding me that when it seems unfair and nearly impossible maybe that’s because my job isn’t to ascend, it is to open the door for the next one to come through. One day, someone will surpass your record, but no one will ever surpass the meaning that you have had in the sports world to all of us whether we know your story or not.

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