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Making Her Mark: Basketball's "First Lady," Ruth Lovelace

On this day, the final day of Women's History Month, we honor Ruth Lovelace, Bed-Stuy's "First Lady" of basketball

Making Her Mark: Basketball's "First Lady," Ruth Lovelace Making Her Mark: Basketball's "First Lady," Ruth Lovelace

Bedford-Stuyvesant has a living legend: Ruth Lovelace.

As head coach of the Boys and Girls High School boy’s varsity basketball team, Lovelace made history last year, when she ushered her team to victory at the 2010 City Championship -- the first female coach of a boy's basketball team to ever reach and win such a title.

Today, "Coach Love" sits in her high school office, where student paperwork and basketball paraphernalia line the walls, desks and chairs.

She wears sneakers -- pristine and white -- with a silhouetted slam-dunker on her t-shirt; her arms are decorated in gold bracelets, and she dons a giant city championship ring -- an image of a basketball falling into a hoop with her name boldly carved into the side. 

She jokes about how she tells her boys that she needs a matching white gold champion ring, so she can switch up her jewelry. They tell Coach Love, "no problem."

“They don’t always understand, when I work them hard at practice, make them run.  They say, 'Oh, Coach is buggin’- but I want to push them," said Lovelace. "I want to work them hard, so they see someday what I saw in them, when they couldn’t see it in themselves.”

In her 17 years of coaching, her shining moment, she says, has been winning two city championships. However, what holds the most meaning to her is when her boys come back to visit, or call to tell her they’ve gotten into school or they’re getting married and having children.  

She says, when they've take the values she has taught them through basketball, like respect, accountability, making wise choices and never giving up, those are the moments that really count. 

When Lovelace was a little girl growing up in Brooklyn, before she even knew what a basketball was, she dreamed of becoming a nurse.  She wanted to meet a lot of people and help them when they were sick. 

She went to school and spent her days after class playing games at an after school center. When the older boys came into the center, they would take over the gym and play basketball. One day, the boys were a player short. They spied Lovelace, hanging along the sidelines and asked her to step in.

Eleven-year-old Lovelace had never held the large, textured orange ball in her hands before. But the boys assured her she would only play defense. Ruth shot her first hoop that day, and it opened up a whole new world to her.

While in middle school, Lovelace played basketball all the time, but not on a team; she preferred just playing against the guys. As she prepared to enter high school, many of the schools known for their winning basketball teams began to vie for her attention.

Her father, a track legend at Boys and Girls high school, urged her to go to his alma matter, but he encouraged her to create her own legacy.

And that, she did.

“I became a big fish in a little pond,” said Lovelace.  She grew to become one of the best players in the city and attracted numerous college scholarship offers.

After graduating from Boys and Girls, she began her education at Hilbert College, which is nationally ranked as one of the top-5 basketball schools and she finished at Seton Hall, racking up numerous awards and titles and receiving a degree in Physical Education.

She returned to her roots and began teaching Physical Education at Boys & Girls. Principal and basketball coach at the time, Frank Mickens, asked Lovelace to help him find a replacement coach for the team. He had Lovelace going through stacks and stacks of resumes. “We had great candidates, I researched them. Watched videos of their plays,” said Lovelace. 

While she meticulously analyzed potential coaches, Mickens was doing his own interviewing... of Lovelace herself.  The day he offered her the position of coach, she was dumbfounded.  “I never asked for this,” Lovelace said.  “I sat down at my desk, and I thought, the pressure is on and I have something to prove.” 

Mickens’ decision to appoint a woman coach was met with disbelief and some contempt. But he was confident in his choice of Lovelace.

Being a female in a position traditionally held by a male was a huge challenge. But Lovelace quickly wiped away any doubt people felt towards her, after they witnessed the positive effect she had on the team.

“I looked at myself as a coach, not a female,” said Lovelace. “I worked hard everyday. I had to make the kids understand what’s important." 

Now that Lovelace has more than proved herself -- not only as a venerable basketball coach, but also, one of the best in the business -- she is considering branching out to coach other teams. In fact, she is interested in switching her game up a bit and coaching a girl’s team. 

“I give back to boys all the time, but girls are always second in basketball, I want to give back to girls.” 

“Basketball is my life; I don’t do much else: Work and basketball," said Lovelace. "But I chose this. And I’d be bored if I had extra time and was just sitting around at home.”

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