When the Howard University athletics program decided to move the women’s basketball program from intramural to varsity, in the 1973-74 season, it came with little fanfare or vision to where it was going.聽 At that time, there were no scholarships and none of the perks that today’s student-athletes have.聽 Yet, there was a commitment from the late director of athletics Leo Miles and a foundation to build on.

“When we started this program, there were a lot of unknowns, ” recalled Sylvia Groomes, the first head coach. “It was all new to us so we had to make some adjustments.”

Reflecting on those adjustments and what it has become 50 years later, Groomes said, “Many of the young women who played in 1974 graduated and enjoyed successful careers in their endeavors. Seeing their desire to play sports was a joy to watch. There’s a tremendous sense of pride for the young ladies and coaches who have come after us. There’s been progression and the program continues to get better. We planted the seed, and seeing what Howard women’s basketball has become is incredibly rewarding.” 

Fast forward a half-century and the foundation and vision has paid off.聽 Throughout those 50 years, the program has become one of the top programs in HBCU history.

  • Howard was the first team in Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) history to participate in the NCAA Tournament in 1982 and is the only team in conference history to have won an NCAA Tournament game, winning the inaugural women’s First Four game against Incarnate Word in 2022.
  • Howard is the only HBCU with multiple players drafted to the WNBA: Denique Graves (1997); Karen Wilkins (1998) and Andrea Gardner (2002).
  • Howard women鈥檚 basketball has won 11 MEAC tournament championships, along with eight regular-season championships.
  • The university鈥檚 women鈥檚 basketball program has featured nine different MEAC Player of the Year award winners, three MEAC Coach of the Year award winners and four MEAC Rookie of the Year award winners in its history.
  • Former forward Saadia Doyle (2009-13) is the MEAC’s all-time leading scorer with 2,310 career points. Doyle also finished her career as the conference’s all-time leader in free throws and is eighth in career rebounds.
  • Alisha Hill (1994-98) led the NCAA in rebounds during the 1997-98 season with an average of 13.2 per game and holds the NCAA single season record for shooting from the floor at 70%.
  • Andrea Gardner (1999-02) led the NCAA in rebounds during the 2000-01 campaign with 14.2 per game.
  • Howard is the only HBCU to have two Parade All Americans in Karen Wilkins and Denique Graves
  • Legendary coach Sanya Tyler (1980-00) coached the most wins in Howard history (over 270), as well as the most MEAC tournament championships (eight) and regular season championships (five). Coach Tyler was the only coach in MEAC and HBCU history to defeat four Power 5 schools: the University of Maryland, North Carolina聽 State, Rutgers and the University of Minnesota.

More than 100 former players, coaches, managers and trainers came together recently to celebrate the accomplishments of the program.

A Howard alum and radiologist, Sanya Tyler took over the program following the years of growth and was part of the University’s membership in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and gaining Division 1 status.  A visionary and trailblazer, the Hall of Fame coach was credited with giving the women’s program national exposure, regularly scheduling other women’s basketball Power 5 opponents and leading her teams to several post-season tournaments.

鈥淚t鈥檚 so exciting to see so many athletes from 50 years come back and share their memories and thoughts and celebrate with us,鈥 said Tyler. 鈥淏ut as a historian myself and a contributor to the growth and the history of Howard University, it is just an outstanding opportunity to watch the new talent and cheer them on and hear all those stories.”

Andrea Gardner helped contribute to the program’s success during her tenure at the University, not only being drafted by the WNBA and going on to have the longest career of any women’s basketball player in HBCU history.

“I have to admit that I did not think of it as anything out of the ordinary at the time,” said Gardner, a member of both Howard University and the MEAC.聽 “Sure, I was excited and proud to not only represent Howard University women’s basketball program, but all HBCUs.聽 Being here for this 50th celebration and seeing all the rich history of this program, where it was, how it has grown, and having been a part of it is surreal.”

With so much to celebrate, there was an added caveat: They alums were able to raise $100,000 for the program, half of which will go to the HU women’s program and the other half to the future.

“We鈥檙e so excited to be able to raise $100,000 鈥 $50,000 for the 50 years of women鈥檚 basketball and $50,000 for the 50 years of the future of women鈥檚 basketball,” explained Tyler, who headed up the fundraising effort along with the more than 100 former players. “So, in that respect, I just want to be known as a coach who came through and gave back.”

Ty Grace, Howard University’s current head coach, who led the program to its first-ever first-round NCAA tournament win, offered her thoughts on what the half-century celebration means.

“It is important to celebrate such a special time for the Lady Bison because they have embodied resilience, leadership and winning at Howard and beyond,” said Grace in her sixth year at the helm of the team. “I sincerely thank those that have come before me in this program and have enabled me to be a part of a distinguished and accomplished group of women on and off the court.”

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