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Who is Lynette Woodard, woman who blazed path for Caitlin Clark?

Before Caitlin Clark, no one had scored more points at the highest levels of women's basketball than Lynette Woodard.
Who is Lynette Woodard, woman who blazed path for Caitlin Clark?
Posted at 3:46 PM, Mar 04, 2024

This season, Iowa's Caitlin Clark became the all-time leading scorer in Division I women's basketball history. Whose record she surpassed is up for debate. 

According to NCAA records, Clark surpassed Washington's Kelsey Plum as women's basketball's all-time leading scorer. However, the NCAA does not consider women's basketball records before 1982 as official. 

Lynette Woodard, who spent four seasons at Kansas, was the all-time leading scorer for the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW). During her four-year tenure with Kansas from 1978-82, Woodard scored 3,649 points, whereas Plum scored 3,527. 

While Clark is a historic player, so was Woodard. Woodard became the first woman to play with the Harlem Globetrotters. She was also one of the oldest players to join the WNBA when it formed in 1997.

While Clark has earned the attention and spotlight given to her, much of that attention was made possible because of players like Woodard. 

Different era

During Woodard's time at Kansas, the NCAA did not sanction women's sports. Top-level women's basketball teams played in the AIAW, which essentially functioned like the NCAA but for women's sports. In addition to women's basketball, the organization held championships for other sports, including softball, volleyball and gymnastics. 

In the 1970s and early 1980s, women's college basketball started booming. Title IX played a role as high schools and colleges needed to create more athletic opportunities for women. 

But the NCAA, which now embraces Title IX, largely opposed the federal program intended to expand access to sports. 

"It was somewhat sort of like a shotgun wedding as I've seen it, especially with the way they've handled our records. There should have been a merge, it should have been a yes before, but at the time we wouldn't allow it, men just didn't accept it.  And so here we are today, the world has changed and some things got mishandled, but hey, there's always a new day and an opportunity to get things right.

SEE MORE: Caitlin Clark passes Pete Maravich, breaks basketball scoring record

NCAA wins out

With women's sports growing, the NCAA began garnering an interest in women's sports. By the early 1980s, the NCAA sought to bring sports like women's basketball under its umbrella. 

But some were reluctant given the NCAA's previous opposition to Title IX. 

Athletic programs were forced to choose between the high-resource NCAA or the non-commercial model of the AIAW. It did not take long for the NCAA to take over and the AIAW to fold. 

But this meant the NCAA largely ignored records from the AIAW era. There is an argument that those records should be lumped into the NCAA's records, as all of the top college programs were part of the AIAW. 

"1982 was the first NCAA championship and it has grown from there, but it didn't mean that basketball started there," Woodard said. "There's a whole era of players and coaches whose records and stories have been left behind."

"It's the foundation of this game that we see today," Woodard added about the AIAW.

SEE MORE: Caitlin Clark announces she's entering 2024 WNBA Draft, leaving Iowa

Four decades of progress

While women's basketball largely had a niche following in the 1980s, the passion behind the sport has since grown considerably. That support has especially grown in the last few years, with Clark grabbing headlines, making last year's Women's Final Four the most watched in the sport's history. 

On Sunday, Woodard was in attendance to see Clark's final official home game in Iowa. It's almost guaranteed that Clark will return to play at least one or two more games at Iowa as the NCAA Tournament awards first- and second-round home games to the top 16 teams at the end of the season. 

But Clark's final regular season home game was a game few could have ever imagined decades ago. Ticket prices soared, and the game was played for a nationally televised audience on Fox. 

Woodard was given a last-minute invite to be on hand for Sunday's game, appearing on the Fox broadcast. 

"We've got this wave of what I coin as the super talent, this wave of new, super talent of Midwest, East Coast, West Coast, women's basketball is being looked at like it has never been before," Woodard said. "The game is being appreciated like never before. I mean, it's at its all-time high. What Iowa has done with their program has transcended the women's game. I don't think I've heard of a men's score in the last three weeks, honestly."

And Woodard is confident that because of Clark, more young girls will be inspired to pick up a basketball. 

"The impact that Caitlin has had on the game every day … I go out, I watch my little neighbors and they dribbling with two hands, so you got players starting earlier now, but they're dreaming and they're listening to these stories, and it's gonna continue and you're gonna see five Caitlins at one time, you know, that's gonna be great when that happens," Woodard said. 

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