Pearl Moore and Lynette Woodard Set the Tone For Players Like Caitlin Clark

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Today, we know Caitlin Clark as one of the greatest shooting guards in women’s college basketball. The Iowa Hawkeyes player averaged 32.2 points this season, and on March 3, she became the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) all-time scoring leader as she closed out her final season in a game against Ohio State. The guard attacked the basket, scoring 35 points for a total of 3,685 career points.

While every shining moment in women’s collegiate basketball, and women’s sports in general, should be highlighted — many sports fans questioned how Clark was crowned that title when two former Black athletes had more career points: Pearl Moore and Lynette Woodard.

Woodard, a 1978-81 guard for the University of Kansas earned 3,649 career points and Moore, a former Francis Marion point guard, ranked in 4,061 points over her 1975-79 career. Both hoopers managed these unheard of stats before the 3-point line was even established, making their numbers even more impressive.

You might not have heard of them because they existed before the NCAA governed Division I women’s basketball in 1982. The NCAA doesn’t recognize the players’ records because at the time, most women’s college basketball played in the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW), an organization that was dissolved in 1982. Unfortunately, the NCAA does not include AIAW scoring in its record book.

Moore, who scored more than 1,000 points in three of her four seasons, told the Athletic how she struggled to even get college placements. “Women back in them days didn’t really get all these scholarship offers and stuff like they do now,” the legend said. “Now you’ve got a silver platter. Before, you had to scramble around.”

You can chalk up the underappreciation to the times and lack of interest in women’s sports back then, but ultimately, it’s a hard pill to swallow in a world where Black athletes, and Black folks in general, are so often disregarded in their heroic and talented feats. Think: Angela Reese’s monumental LSU win for the 2023 NCAA Championships, Serena Williams who is one of the strongest athletes of all time consistently reduced to the ‘angry Black woman’ trope, Tidye Pickett who was the first Black female to compete in the Olympic Games, or Sandra Douglass Morgan, president of the Las Vegas Raiders and the first Black female president in NFL history.

Clark is a byproduct of the hard, unrecognized work, not the foundation.

These women are wildly talented in their fields, yet rarely garner the same praise given to their white counterparts and are often held to different standards. This praise and honor is often seen only in insular communities – Black spaces where we look to uplift this talent and skill — when the accomplishments should be acknowledged in all spaces and become recognized by the media and extended to white audiences. It’s nice to see Moore and Woodard’s accomplishments being brought in the same conversation as Clark’s scoring record. But these two women are phenomenal in their own right, having accomplished an even great feat more than four decades ago.

To be clear: the points I’m making are not to dim Clark’s light or negate all the excitement she is receiving. She is a great player and well deserving of all the celebratory chatter.

But when you realize Moore actually set the record in 1979, it becomes frustrating that it took the public 45 years to give her the flowers she deserves. “In honoring Caitlin’s accomplishments, I hope that we can also shine a light on the pioneers who paved the way before her. Women’s basketball has a glorious history that predates the NCAA’s involvement,” Woodard said in an interview with NPR, before wishing Clark the best on her own journey. “I applaud Caitlin for everything she has done and look forward to watching her score many more points for years to come.”

As the Iowa player continues to bring attention to collegiate basketball and an increased interest in women’s sports as a whole, let’s hope that the world will not be so quick to forget the Black all-stars that showed up and dominated courts before. Clark is a byproduct of the hard, unrecognized work, not the foundation.

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