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IX AT 50: Cindy Stein propels ESU women’s hoops into national powerhouse

Published: Sep. 2, 2021 at 10:09 PM CDT
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June 23, 1972, President Nixon signed Title IX into law, prohibiting sex discrimination in educational institutions that receive federal funding. Title IX has largely been considered the springboard for collegiate women’s sports to get where they are today — but the fight for equality is far from over. Every Thursday night at 10:00 p.m. leading up to the 50th anniversary of the law’s passing, 13 Sports will honor the women who changed the game for girls’ and women’s sports in Kansas.

“IX at 50: The Trailblazers of Women’s Sports in Kansas”

EMPORIA, Kan. (WIBW) - March Madness as we know it began in 1939 — for the men.

It took another 43 years for women’s basketball to get an NCAA Tournament of its own.

Cindy Stein remembers that first year very well.

“My first year at the University of Illinois was the very first NCAA tournament for women, and we were actually fortunate to go,” the Emporia State Hall of Fame coach said.

A junior college All-American, Stein joined the Fighting Illini ahead of the 1981-82 season, helping her team to the brand-new 32-team tournament.

Despite Title IX being law for 10 years, Stein says her team still felt the differences.

“It wasn’t the grand stage. It wasn’t televised,” she recalled. “It’s been a hard fight. I would even say today it’s still a hard fight at times.”

After graduating, Stein made assistant coaching stops at Miami of Ohio, Cincinatti, Bradley and Illinois.

She landed her first head coaching job at Emporia State in 1995.

“I never looked back,” she said. “I mean, it was such great opportunities and just, I was really blessed. I’ve been very fortunate to be in the right place at the right time.”

In just three seasons, Stein turned the program around from 12-14 to 30-1, culminating in a National Championship appearance.

They didn’t win — but it set the stage for ESU to become a national powerhouse in the years to come.

“I think it took them 10 to 15 years to figure out that they actually had such a great accomplishment because at the time when we lost that national championship game, you know, they shoved that trophy in the corner,” Stein said. “It was in the shower. No one wanted to carry it home. You know, they were just so disappointed, and I kept telling them, ‘You’re going to remember this. This is going to be something that’s going to turn out to be one of your greatest accomplishments.’”

The team won their first MIAA regular season and tournament championships in Stein’s third and final season.

After being named the MIAA and NCAA Division II National Coach of the Year in 1998, she left for the head coaching job at Missouri — but the program she left behind continued the momentum.

The Lady Hornets reached the Big Dance 20 of 23 seasons since Stein’s first run, winning it all in 2010.

“All along, I think that we talked about,” Stein said. “We wanted conference championships and we wanted national championships. I still think today, I mean, I think all those kids and coaches live and breathe that. That’s what you want, that’s your goal. And it’s very attainable because of all the support that Emporia State provides.”

Stein currently coaches at Southern Illinois. After 10 seasons with the Salukis, she announced she will retire at the end of the season.

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