Original

Vicky Bullett: ‘I was humble enough to do whatever it took to win’

This is the ninth story in the SLR Original series on Title IX  (See previous)

Like Elwood and myself, former WNBA guard Vicky Bullett grew up in a post-Title IX sports environment, and turned it into a sporting life many of us would have dreamed of.

I was raised Seventh-day Adventist, so I never asked to play basketball in high school because the games were on Friday nights (the Sabbath runs from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday). But when I saw Bullett play, I said to myself, “She stole my life!” because it was exactly the kind of game I would have played.

I watched her for the first time at a Charlotte Sting game, when we were both 32. She had a line of eight points, seven rebounds, two assists, a steal, and three blocks. She blocked out for rebounds, dove for loose balls, and set up her teammates, not needing to be a big scorer. We shared a sporting identity and she seemed to have taken it to the ideal place; in another life, her game would have been my game — setting up other people to be the star.

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Vicky Bullett played with Cailin Lowry at the “Meet the Sting” event in Charlotte in 1997. (Christopher A. Record/The Charlotte Observer)

Still impressed by her play and struck by our shared birth year (1967), I contacted her at her new job — she’s the head women’s basketball coach at West Virginia Weslyan — to ask about her life in sports. She wrote me right back and we got talking.

Bullett was an All-American, the ACC Player of the Year, and two-time Olympian with a gold and bronze medal. She was often the star on courts throughout her career. But she agreed that being a big scorer was never her aim. 

“I was humble enough to do whatever it took to win,” she said.

She grew up playing sports with her six brothers, beginning with baseball and softball around age eight. During her childhood, the Boys and Girls Club in Martinsburg, W.V., had only boys as members, so that’s who she played against. 

“I had no choice, but I wasn’t afraid.”

That lack of fear, combined with her height — she topped out at 6’3” as a pro — propelled her to amazing play on the softball field and the basketball court. And soon enough, the University of Maryland came calling and offered to pay a college tuition bill that otherwise would have presented an insurmountable obstacle for Bullet and her family. 

She played forward for the Terrapins from 1985-89, averaging 16.9 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, and leading her team to a Final Four appearance in her senior season. Maryland has since retired her No. 23 jersey.

In her role now as a coach and educator, she describes that college degree opportunity as “priceless.” It got her out of Martinsburg, which is so proud of its famous daughter that it named one of its roads after her — today, you can go visit Vicky Bullett Street just east of downtown.

After medaling with the US Olympic team in 1988 and 1992, she played in Italy and Brazil, before joining the Charlotte Sting when the WNBA was launched in 1997. She played three seasons there and three more with the Washington Mystics before ending her career with five more seasons overseas.

Her post-playing days have involved a lot of teaching, and if not for sports, she may have been in the classroom long ago, a place she called a “natural fit” for her. She worked with middle school students with special needs after retiring from playing and more recently turned to coaching to keep her teaching spark alive. 

After a year as an assistant with the Mystics, she joined the staff at Maryland’s Hagerstown Community College. Many of those student-athletes came from difficult backgrounds and she said she worked with them on a tenet of her life that held special meaning. 

“Use basketball as a tool to get your degree,” she often told them.

She repeats that mantra now at West Virginia Wesleyan, a three-hour drive from her hometown, buried in the state’s coal country. As long as she’s there, she’ll continue pursuing her goal of educating women and teaching them lessons using sports. 

Read the next part of our series on Title IX: Christian Hithe

Ellyn Ritterskamp is a journalist and teacher who loves thinking about sport and ethics, especially if there is baseball involved. She lives in Charlotte, NC, has appeared on three TV game shows, and has visited all the parks in Major League Baseball, the South Atlantic League, and the Carolina League.

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