Archdeacon: Hoops pioneer takes over Central State women’s basketball program

Cathy Parson during her playing days at West Virginia. CONTRIBUTED
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Cathy Parson during her playing days at West Virginia. CONTRIBUTED

Cathy Parson is all-time leading women’s scorer in West Virginia University history

Central State got more than just a new basketball coach in Cathy Parson. It got a hoops pioneer and something of a preacher to boot.

When Parson arrived on campus Wednesday to take over the recently struggling women’s program, she brought with her an impressive resume as a coach at the college and pro level.

Along with being the interim head coach of the WNBA’s Washington Mystics in their inaugural 1998 campaign, she has worked the sidelines of six college programs, four as the head coach and four times she was named the coach of the year in the respective leagues.

Parson as a pioneer goes back to her playing days a West Virginia University, where she still reigns as the women’s all-time career scorer with 2,128 points. On the men’s side, only Jerry West (2,309) and Hot Rod Hundley (2,180) have topped 2,000.

That triumvirate is the Mountaineers' version of Mount Rushmore.

She was the first woman ever to get a basketball scholarship to WVU, the first woman to have her basketball jersey retired there and the first woman enshrined in the school’s athletic hall of fame. After college she was one of 18 top women in the game invited to a tryout to become the first female attraction of the Harlem Globetrotters.

When that 1985 honor went to Lynette Woodard of Kansas, Parson opted to play a year of pro ball with the Virginia Wave in the Women’s American Basketball Association (WABA).

As for being a preacher, her pulpit ended up on hardwood courts not in the church sanctuaries in which she once spent so much time.

“Both of my parents were ministers,” she said. "I grew up in the church. Her father, Bishop Tom Parson, and her mother, Pastor Yvonne Parson, both led the Jonathan Street House of Prayer Ministerial Fellowship in Hagerstown, Md. Her sister, Apostle Pamela Parson, now leads the church.

“My mom and my five sisters, we had a singing group that went around to churches,” she said. “We were called The Parson Family. I was the lead singer.”

But she really took center stage when she laced up her sneakers and picked up a basketball. A sharpshooting, 5-foot- 7 point guard, she scored in double figures in 108 of the record 121 college games she played at West Virginia, was a three time All East selection, a three-time MVP of the Mountaineers and the team captain as a senior.

“My parents wanted me to have God in everything I did, but being a preacher wasn’t appealing to me,” she said. “I felt I could use my gift in other ways and I felt the spirit in me out on the court. I’d get in a zone and playing basketball became like a form of worship to me. I was using my God-given talents as best I could. And even today I’m still trying to do that.”

From playing to coaching

Parson grew up in Hagerstown and came of age on the basketball courts while tagging along with brother, who was eight years older and never took it easy on her.

“Years later he apologized for being an a— to me,” she laughed. “I played with the guys and they made me earn everything I got.”

Although she starred in high school in the mid-1970s, she said basketball then “wasn’t considered fashionable for women to play…not like today.”

Recruiting wasn’t anything like it is now and she said she only was seen because she took part in the Cathy Rush Basketball Camp.

Rush, since inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, was the coach of tiny Immaculata College in Pennsylvania, which won three straight national titles (AIAW) in the mid-1970s.

“That was the place to be back then and I made the most of it,” Parson said. “I won the one-on-one competition, was on the winning three-on-three team and made the camp’s all star team.”

Her high school coach was from near Morgantown, W.V., and thanks to her dominance in the Rush camp, he got the Mountaineers interested in her.

Following her playing days, she spent three years as an assistant coach at Providence, which went to two NCAA Tournaments during her time there.

Next came a decade as the head coach at Christopher Newport University, an NCAA Division III school in Newport News, Va. She took the team to six NCAA tournaments, was twice named the league’s coach of the year and won 183 games.

After a season in the WNBA as an assistant and then interim head coach, she was on the staff at Richmond for a year and then was the head coach at Howard University for eight seasons. She won two Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference regular season titles, a tournament crown and was twice voted MEAC Coach of the Year.

Most recently she was at Frostburg State and Stratford University, which closed its campus in May of 2019.

Since COVID-19 hit, she said she’s been back in Hagerstown giving personal basketball instruction to youth and high school groups, a well as Immanuel Quickley, the Kentucky point guard who was the SEC Player of the Year and likely will be picked in the Nov. 18 NBA Draft.

From over 70 applicants, CSU chose her to replace LaTonya McDole, the former Trotwood Madison and Kentucky star, who went 26-33 over the past two seasons.

The Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference announced Tuesday that CSU and the rest of the SIAC will begin their basketball seasons Jan. 9 and play 12-14 league games and a conference tournament.

‘Great opportunity’ at CSU

Parson said she chose CSU in part because of the commitment she saw from athletics director Tara Owens and the school’s new president, Dr. Jack Thomas:

"Tara showed me she has a vision for Central State and the new president is making a commitment to athletics. He wants to see them flourish. And I felt I was in a position to be that missing link.

“To me, it looks like a great opportunity to bring my ideas and knowledge and blend it with what we already have here and see if we can’t create something magnificent.” She can also take what she has and blend it with something a school is missing – as was the case when she was at Christopher Newport University.

“A lot of times they’d end up not having the tape for the national anthem, so I’d come out, take the microphone and sing it,” she said.

And now?

“If they ever need that here at Central State,” she laughed, “I could surely do it again.”

After all, the Marauders got more than just a coach when they hired her.