Washington coached the Jayhawks from 1973 through 2004, compiling 560 wins against 365 losses. The hiring of a black women’s coach in 1973 was bold, but Washington proved to be worthy of the pioneering move. Truly great players came to KU to play for Washington. No one was greater than Lynette Woodard, the finest women’s collegiate player ever. While the Wichita native played at KU from 1978-81, the formative years of the women’s game, Woodard’s skill level would stand out even today. Angela Aycock, Tamecka Dixon and Lynn Pride followed. Each left their marks on the game while playing at Kansas and beyond.
Gratefully, I photographed Washington, those great players and many others throughout my years working in Topeka and since joining KU in 1997. While a deeply private person, Washington was also incredibly open, as you can see in the classic scene from the mid-70’s in an Allen Fieldhouse locker room where the coach squatted to go over plays with her team.
Washington also was one of the most caring people I ever have met. She initiated annual team visits around Christmas to the maternity and pediatric care wards at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. Working for KU, I photographed Washington’s last five years of visits with the team.
There was always an awkwardness for young players squeezing into a small hospital room often unsure of what to say or do. Then Washington would take over. She almost always sat on the edge of the bed at some point. She even crawled into bed once with a young mother and baby without hesitation. She loved every moment of the visits and clearly let the young parents know she truly did care about their well-being.
Since her departure from KU, I have seen Washington only once. Our conversation was far too brief for all the enjoyment she granted me. As KU verges on a new era of women’s basketball, I wanted to go back in time and say thank you to a great coach and great person.