February 28, 2024 

Legacy of Lynette Woodard reaches far beyond scoring

How the AIAW paved the way for today’s superstars

After the Kansas Jayhawks defeated their Top 10 in-state rival Kansas State on Feb. 25 in front of more than 9,000 fans at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, one of the pioneers not only of their program, but of women’s basketball, gave the team a rousing pep talk in the locker room. 

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Lynette Woodard, who put up a Division I women’s record 3,649 points from 1977-81 at KU, was still excited Monday about not only her alma mater’s performance, but of the atmosphere surrounding women’s basketball. 

“I congratulated them and shared what I saw,” Woodard told The Next. “They came out with a strong start. I felt like they had Kansas State against the ropes, so to speak. They came out punching like Mike Tyson. The Sunflower Showdown is always going to be a great game. I felt the Kansas State game would go down to the wire – and it did.”

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While Woodard’s team often played in front of thousands of fans during her record-breaking run, the crowd Sunday – KU’s largest home crowd for a women’s game since Feb, 17, 2002 – couldn’t help but make her proud of how far the program and the sport have come.  

“That made me feel very proud. Because I know the beginning of that and how that all began,” she said. “You hear people talking about standing on the shoulders of others. It made me feel proud of the work that Hall of Fame Coach Marian Washington did at the University of Kansas to lay that foundation. And then to see the interest of the administration now to build that. I thought it was beautiful.”

Laying the foundation

Long before Iowa’s Caitlin Clark began making seismic waves in the women’s basketball world with her logo three-pointers and pinpoint accurate passes, a group of trailblazing women were cramming their long bodies into vans for hours on end just to get to the games. No flights, no NIL deals, no red carpet – just a desire to play the game they loved.    

“When you’re a pioneer, when you start something, you might have to get there walking,” Woodard said. “And then after you walk awhile, somebody says, ‘here, use these bikes.’ You ride those bikes for a while and they say, ‘here’s a motorcycle.’ And all of it is an upgrade. From zero to an upgrade. When you have nothing, you’re making it happen. You’re cooking it from scratch.” 

Although Title IX was ratified in 1972, banning federally funded education programs and activities from discriminating on the basis of sex, female athletes had an uphill battle gaining recognition and the same benefits afforded their male counterparts. The NCAA refused to include women’s sports until a decade later, and have yet to acknowledge the remarkable feats these pioneers achieved – well before the women’s ball was made smaller in 1984 and the three-point line was introduced in 1987. 

The Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) was formed in 1971 to govern women’s college competitions and administer national championships. After Title IX was passed, the AIAW was allowed to offer women scholarships, introducing players who otherwise may have gone unnoticed to the college game. 

Adrian Mitchell Newell (21) pulls up for a shot for the Kansas Jayhawks. Mitchell Newell, who played at KU from 1975-79, remains the program’s second leading scorer and rebounder behind her legendary teammate Lynette Woodard. PHOTO CREDIT/KU Athletics

Adrian Mitchell Newell was working at City Hall and raising her young daughter after graduating from Central High School in Kansas City, Mo., in 1971. She was playing basketball at an AAU tournament when new Kansas women’s coach Marian Washington came into the gym to scout another player. Instead, Washington was captivated by the 21-year-old who didn’t play organized sports in high school because they were not available for women. 

“I was one of Marian Washington’s first scholarship recipients and I didn’t get that opportunity until I was 21 years old,” Mitchell Newell told The Next. “If she hadn’t come across me playing an AAU Tournament, I probably never would have gone to college.”

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As the program was gaining momentum with skilled players like Mitchell Newell in the mid-1970s, the Jayhawks turned the corner her junior year when Lynette Woodard – the highly-touted versatile player from Wichita – joined the team. 

“We knew the first day of practice – we could see her talent. When she played her first game, we all knew that she was something special,” Mitchell Newell said. “I had never seen anything like her before. She was 6-feet tall, she could handle the ball, drive to the basket, shoot a jumper from anywhere, post up. I think she may have been the first point forward before we knew what a point forward was. She played great defense, played well with her teammates. She’s just an all-around player.”

The duo remain the only Jayhawks to score 2,000 career points and grab 1,000 career rebounds. Mitchell is second all-time in the KU record books in both scoring (2,124) and rebounds (1,288). Woodard ended her career at Kansas with 1,714 rebounds and 3,649 points, which included 3,144 points on 2-point baskets and 505 points at the free-throw line.

“It was just a different game then,” Mitchell Newell said. “You work with the way the game works. My teammates had confidence in me to pass me the ball in the middle and let me score. Lynette could pretty much do whatever she wanted because she was that good. We didn’t have the three-pointer. We scored two-point shots, made free throws, ran our plays, got what needed to be done. That’s how we did it.”

Before Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame member C. Vivian Stringer led the Iowa Hawkeyes to their first Final Four appearance in 1993, and the program’s all-time winningest coach Lisa Bluder led the Hawkeyes to their first National Championship game in 2023, Lark Birdsong began the program from scratch in 1974.

“Everything needed development as nothing was in place,” Birdsong told The Next. “All the coaches, players and administrators had to find many beginnings. This is an honor that belongs to no others. Many coaches paid for their teams’ needs with their own money. The assistant coaches and I drove cars to the games until I had an accident driving home in a snowstorm from Drake. We were then given a bus. The managers and I washed the jerseys. I was also assistant AD and at times had to set up equipment for gymnastics the day of a game.” 

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While she doesn’t envy the constant public pressures college sports programs face today, she is proud of her contributions in paving the way for current coaches and players. 

“Title IX and AIAW gave us the start of women’s basketball when the NCAA actively tried to prevent its momentum,” she said. “AIAW showed the NCAA that women in sports were worthy and here to stay. The NCAA did not embrace women as athletes until the AIAW showed them women’s value.”

Lynette Woodard (31) of the Kansas Jayhawks scores over the Kansas State Wildcats during a Sunflower Showdown game in the 1970s. Photo courtesy of Lynette Woodard

Setting the record straight

As Clark closes in on Woodard’s Division I scoring mark– she needs 32 points to tie and 33 to eclipse the 43-year-old record – many, including Woodard herself, would like to see the AIAW records merged with the NCAA lists.

“I would like it to be included… I think the NCAA should include the AIAW and merge records,” she said. “There’s a whole generation of players [including Pearl Moore, who scored a total 4,061 points from 1975-79 at Anderson Junior College and Francis Marion University in the AIAW’s Division II]. I also said we’re going into this and that era. We’re also the era of diversity, equity and inclusion, so we need to be about that. And we deserve it.”

It is not unprecedented for athletic leagues to integrate stats from previous leagues. For example, American Football League (AFL) stats are included under NFL statistics, and MLB recently added Negro League stats to its official record books. College coaches even have their pre-NCAA wins and losses counted in their totals.

“All of the great coaches’ AIAW wins are counted,” Mitchell Newell pointed out. “Is that fair? How did they win those games? They won with AIAW players. Pat Summitt, Tara Vanderveer, Jody Conradt – all of those coaches would not have the numbers they have without the players of the AIAW time.” 

Mitchell Newell, who was drafted by the Chicago Hustle of the Women’s Basketball League (WBL) in 1979, has been disappointed in some of the recent coverage of women’s basketball.

“I was watching a game just before Clark was to break Plum’s record and Lynette wasn’t even mentioned,” she said. “These young ladies are great players and great scorers but those are NCAA records, not Division I scoring records. People focus on the here and now. Unfortunately, it’s like Lynette never existed when it comes to point totals. All of her points got swept under the rug. They don’t count? They got excluded from the record books? That’s ridiculous.”

In 1982, Woodard was the first female student athlete to be recognized by the NCAA with a Top Five  Award. 

“That’s a great honor because she graduated in 1981,” Mitchell Newell said. “So, why not continue to recognize her as the Division I scoring leader whose numbers that these players are chasing? You just can’t ignore AIAW athletes. We have AIAW All–Americans in all sports. Whose job is it to make sure the record is straight? The universities? The media? Game announcers? It’s all of them.”

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Organizations like Legends of the Ball Inc., a nonprofit founded by former players including Mitchell Newell, have a mission to preserve and promote the historic and social relevance of the WBL and pre-NCAA women’s basketball.  

“When we go out to talk about women’s basketball, we always include the AIAW,” Mitchell Newell said. “And everyone is so fascinated about the history of women’s basketball and what they learn. We hope that once we tell the story to our audience, that they’ll go out and tell others.”

She admits she didn’t think Woodard’s record could ever be broken, but gives credit to Clark and other stars for bringing more attention to the game she loves. 

“That’s a phenomenal feat. Records are made to be broken, but look, it’s taken 43 years. That’s a long time to hold a record,” she said. “So, kudos to Caitlin. I’m proud of her. I’m proud of all the other young ladies who have scored big in Division I basketball, but don’t forget about Lynette. It’s a very long time to hold a scoring record without the three point shot, without the smaller ball.” 

Woodard, on the other hand, said she hadn’t given much thought about her scoring record ever being broken. 

“I never thought about it. That’s one category in my body of work,” she said. 

Since her historic career at Kansas, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame inductee was a captain on the gold medal USA Olympic team in 1984 and became the first female member of the Harlem Globetrotters in 1985. She played nearly 10 years professionally in Italy and Japan, and at age 37, was drafted in 1997 by the Cleveland Rockers in the newly formed WNBA. She retired from playing in 1999, and has served as assistant coach for her alma mater Kansas and head coach of the Winthrop Eagles women’s basketball team in Rock Hill, South Carolina. 

Lynette Woodard scored a Division I record 3,649 points during her career at Kansas from 1977-1981. Photo courtesy of Lynette Woodard

She is proud to have paved the way for the game’s stars like Clark and is grateful for the increased exposure. 

“I am a great fan of the game and I love all the fireworks,” she said. “Caitlin’s bringing such great recognition to the game, and not only that, but is filling stadiums. I think it’s an absolute wonder. It’s awesome.” 

Clark and the Iowa Hawkeyes play Minnesota Wednesday night in Minneapolis and wrap up their regular season Sunday against Ohio State in Iowa City. Currently with 3,617 points and averaging 32.1 points per game, Clark will likely pass Woodard’s 3,649 points in the next two games before the start of the Big Ten Tournament next week.

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Written by Angie Holmes

Angela Holmes is the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) reporter for The Next. Based in the Midwest, she also covers the Big Ten and Big 12.

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