[The following is a reprint of an article I wrote in 2004]
Once upon a time, there were no crowds of 10,000, no television coverage or horde of reporters. Once upon a time, there weren’t even any scholarship players. Oh, how times have changed.
The University of Connecticut has had a womens’ basketball team for 100 years, but for decades the teams were more like intramural squads than national title contenders. Enter Title IX. In 1976, the University decided it had better start offering women’s scholarships in order to comply with the new Federal regulations.
Meanwhile, in Gaithersburg, Maryland, a high school basketball player named Chris Gedney was earning honors for her play in the greater Washington DC area and was named to the All-Met team. At the time, the University of Maryland was a Top 20 team in women’s basketball and Gedney approached Maryland coach Chris Weller, an acquaitance, and asked if a scholarship would be made available for her.
Weller was honest with Gedney. She suggested that the young player might get more playing time if she went to a lesser known program. Gedney’s parents had put together a package of information on their daughter and sent it to several colleges, including UConn. UConn head coach Wanda Flora set up an official visit and a scholarship was offered. When Chris Gedney accepted the scholarship offer, she became the first woman to accept as scholarship to play basketball for UConn.
Gedney, who had started playing basketball seriously in 5th grade, was ready to be a contributor and player for the Huskies. But she was surprised to find that no one at UConn really cared much about the women’s basketball team.
“We would be winning a game and then the coach would pull us and put in the reserves. We kept losing games and no one cared,” Gedney said. “The administration didn’t pay too much attention to us then.”
Gendey’s class had “2 or 3″ scholarship players, a number that would increase each year. UConn was signing some of the better players in the Northeast, players who came to the school intending to win, but the attitude of the coach and administration was the same that it had always been.
Then, in her junior year, Gedney caused, in her words, “a ruckus”. Tired of losing and tired of being coached by someone who clearly gave little attention to her players or team, Gedney, one of the co-captains, held a team meeting.
“We wanted to get in touch with the administration. We [players] were taking our team seriously and we wanted to know when the administration would take us seriously as well,” said Gedney.
The coach, Wanda Flora, responded by kicking Gedney off the team. At the time, women’s college basketball was under the auspices of the AIAW, precursor to the NCAA, and they took a very dim view of this action. Gedney was a scholarship player and had some protection under AIAW rules, rules that UConn had clearly violated. The AIAW responded by freezing post-season competition for all UConn teams.
UConn responded to the AIAW’s pressure by firing Flora and hiring Jean Balthasar as head coach. Gedney, who had been considering transferring to another school after the AIAW reinstated her scholarship, was coaxed back to the Huskies by Balthasar. The 1980-81 team, made up of essentially the same players as the previous year, had their first winning season and reached the Eastern Regionals in Balthasar’s first year, Gedney’s senior season.
Gedney played with a number of alumnae whose names still appear in the UConn record books: Cathy Bochain (1980-83), Rosemary Borsuk (1976-78), Roberta Wachtelhausen (1977-79) and Val Sirois (1978-79).
Gedney herself takes up some space in the list of top players. She is 4th on the all-time scoring average list (16.0 ppg) and 6th in rebounding average (7.9 rpg). In single season games, she is tied for first with Jamelle Elliott and Rosemary Borsuk with 25 rebounds in a single game. Gedney has three 30+ point games and two 20+ rebound games. She is currently 13th on the all-time scoring list with 1409 points in only 88 games. She was also the statistical leader for the team in points, rebounds and field goal percentage in 1979-80 and 1980-81.
Since the WNBA wasn’t an option in 1981, Gedney wasn’t sure what to do with her education major and marketing minor. At first, she worked in a fitness club and then at a sporting goods store, but they weren’t good fits.
Gedney’s brother, Tim, is a Naval officer and one of her good friends was the first woman to attend West Point. Their good experiences with the military gave Gedney the idea to speak with an Air Force recruiter. Then, in 1983, Gedney enlisted and became an airman in the Air Force.
After a year that included a few months playing in the Command level sports team (a travel team), Gedney applied for, and was accepted into Officers Training School. After graduating, OTS, Gedney became an intelligence officer for the Air Force. One of the projects she worked on was “electronic combat” in which the U.S. could battle the enemy by jamming their electronics rather than shoot at them.
On September 11, 2001 Gedney was working at the Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Virginia when the terrorists struck American targets. The people in Gedney’s office were given the job of coordinating the intelligence among Federal agencies, the military and local officials such as police, fire and rescue personnel. Gedney became the Chief of Intelligence of the Joint Force Headquarters Homeland Security. Her duties also included creating a blueprint for future coordination efforts of intelligence.
In 2004, Gedney will have served 20 years as an Air Force officer and is considering retiring. However, she would like to continue the work she does now, as a civilian.
When asked to recall her days playing basketball for UConn, Gedney says many things have changed in the last 25 years.
“If we had all of our friends and some of our family members at the games, we could get a couple hundred people,” she laughs. “We would play with water dripping into the Field House. We thought we were lucky when they made the people stop running on the track during games.”
UConn played a schedule that was mostly regional and had rivalries with teams such as St. John’s, Northeastern, New Hampshire and Vermont. Another rival was regional powerhouse Southern Connecticut State University, whose best player was Cathy Inglese (1980 grad), now coach of Boston College.
In Gedney’s junior year, the Huskies made a trip through the south to play Duke, North Carolina State, South Carolina and other teams. Unlike today’s team, though, the Huskies traveled fourth class – in the team bus.
There have been a lot of changes for the UConn women’s teams through the years. The recruiting arena is much larger. Geno Auriemma was brought in to coach in 1985 after Jean Balthasar left. Players are bigger, more athletic and more talented. But one this has not changed, and that is the players’ loyalty to the UConn program.
“My car’s license plate is UCON44 [her number at UConn]. I still go up to UConn for the alumnae weekends and whenever I’m there I pick up more UConn sweatshirts. I follow the team. In fact, when I was stationed in Norfolk, I went to the UConn-Old Dominion game. I wore my UConn sweatshirt and was not a crowd favorite, to say the least,” Gedney said.
What does she think of Geno Auriemma?
“When I played, everyone just did whatever they wanted to do. I think it would have been fun to play for Geno, where everyone knows their roles and understands just what’s expected of them,” said Gedney.
“I think he’s just great. Geno has charisma; he could sell ice to Eskimos. But what I appreciate most about him is that he makes an effort to talk to and about players who have never played for him. He makes us feel like we’re a part of the team’s history and tradition and that what we did means something to the program. He’s a very warm and genuine person.”
When asked if she would have given the WNBA a try if it had been around in 1981, Gedney laughs. “I would have like to have tried, but I just wasn’t good enough. But I’m very glad for the WNBA because if I couldn’t see Sue Bird play again, I would just die.”
A true blue UConn fan, Gedney also has strong feelings about rival Tennessee.
“I hate Tennessee. I hate Pat Summitt, not as a person but as the Tennessee coach. I hate the color orange. In fact, if I’m going to eat a piece of fruit, I’m going to have an apple instead of an orange,” said Gedney. “I have a friend who’s a Tennessee fan and whenever the teams play we make some kind of bet. I don’t care where we are in the world, I have to call her after UConn beats Tennessee.” Gedney laughs. “Seriously, it’s a cool rivalry that’s good for the programs, good for CBS and good for the fans.”
What is it about UConn that inspires such loyalty?
“I guess it sounds corny, but I liked being part of a team that worked together for a common goal, that sense of belonging. It’s what I enjoy about the military. I like feeling that I’m part of something bigger than just myself, where I can be a valuable contributor,” Gedney said.
Gedney’s value to the military and the country’s security is unequivocal, but her worth to the UConn women’s basketball program is a bit more obscure. Would UConn still be doling out scholarships grudgingly and condescending to players if Gedney and her teammates hadn’t stood up to the administration? Perhaps Huskymania would have arrived at Storrs eventually, but Gedney’s commitment to excellence certainly helped the program along. She should remembered along with all the other players who helped advance the Husky program to the top tier where it resides today.by
The commits keep on coming, as Zordan Holman, a tight end from Cheverus High School in Portland, Maine, has decided to play college ball with the Huskies.
This was a big one for UConn, who need some help at the position. The 6-6 all-state selection also played defensive end with the Stags, recording 6 sacks his senior season.
I’ll have much more on Holman and the rest of the class as we get closer to signing day, just 5 days from now, Wednesday, February 4th.by