UConnReport - Chris Gedney: A cornerstone of UConn basketball
football Edit

Chris Gedney: A cornerstone of UConn basketball

The University of Connecticut has had a womens' basketball team for 100 years, but the teams were more like intramural squads than national title contenders for decades. Enter Title IX. In 1976, the University decided it had better start offering women’s scholarships in order to comply with the new Federal regulations.
Meanwhile, in Gaithersburg, Maryland, a high school basketball player named Chris Gedney was earning honors for her play in the greater Washington DC area and was named to the All-Metropolitan team (DC, Maryland and Virginia metro area). At the time, the University of Maryland was a Top 20 team in women's basketball and Gedney approached Maryland coach Chris Weller, an acquaitance, and asked if a scholarship would be made available for her.
Weller was honest with Gedney. She suggested that the young player might get more playing time if she went to a lesser known program. Meanwhile, Gedney's parents had put together packages of information on their daughter, complete with video tapes and sent it to several colleges, including UConn. UConn head coach Wanda Flora liked what she saw, set up an official visit and a scholarship was offered. When Chris Gedney accepted the scholarship offer in 1977, she became the first woman to receive a scholarship to play basketball for UConn.
Gedney, who had started playing organized basketball in 5th grade, was ready to be a contributor and player for her new team. But upon her arrival in Storrs, she was surprised to find that no one at the school seemed to care much about the team.
“In fact,” says Gedney, “when I arrived at my dorm room and my folks were helping me unload my things, they met my roommate. She was aligning her bottles of Seagrams Seven on the shelf when my Mom told her about me and basketball and my scholarship. Her reply, without turning around was 'Oh, I didn’t even know we had a girls basketball team here'”.
Four years later, and self-proclaimed number one fan, Gedney’s roommate, Caren Ullman, presented her with two large binders filled with every newpaper clipping written during those four years from the school and local papers. “I never even knew she read that stuff” said Gedney.
In the first few years, "We would be winning a game, often by a narrow margin, and then the coach would pull out some starters and put in the reserves. We kept losing games, sometimes by only a few points, and no one cared," Gedney said. "The administration didn't seem to pay too much attention to us then. I believe they thought they were complying with Title IX, but it seemed to the players that the letter was being followed, but not the intent of the law."
Gedney's class had "2 or 3" scholarship players, a number that would increase each year. UConn was signing some of the better players in the Northeast, players who came to the school intending to win, but the attitude of the coach and administration continued to be one of indifference.
“We were given scholarships, practice uniforms, sneakers and the like, but yet, we still felt like second class athletes because of the coaching situation, our practice times, weight training times, etc. We always had to defer to the men’s teams and their preferences. And here we were with a coach that had never posted a winning season in her 5th year, and made extremely questionable coaching moves, yet the administration continued to support her without question. It seemed to me that we were just being paid lip service”.
The head coach, Wanda Flora had compiled a record of 38-66 (.365%) in her five years at UConn.
Then, in her junior year, Gedney caused, in her words, "a ruckus". Tired of losing and tired of being coached by someone who seemingly gave little attention to her players or to creating a winning program, Gedney, one of the co-captains, called a team meeting.
"We wanted to get in touch with the administration. We [players] were taking our team seriously and we wanted to know when the administration would take us seriously as well," said Gedney. “Our goal was to call the administration's attention to the coaching situation, but that was not meant to be”.
Flora responded to Gedney’s meeting by kicking her off the team at the start of the next practice.
“ All I remember was running out of her office, crying, and running all the way back to my dorm room and calling my parents. They simply said, 'So what are you going to do about that?'"
At the time, the team was under the auspices of the AIAW, precursor to the NCAA, who took a very dim view of this action since no apparent cause was given for the dismissal. Gedney was a scholarship player and had some protection under AIAW rules, rules that UConn had clearly violated they began the process of revoking her scholarship. The AIAW responded by freezing post-season competition for all of UConn womens teams until the “Gedney matter” was resolved.
UConn responded to the AIAW's pressure by “encouraging" Flora to resign and hiring Jean Balthasar, a coach from the University of Pittsburg who had earned a winning record there. Gedney, who had been considering transferring to another school before the AIAW directed UConn to reinstate her scholarship, was warmly welcomed back to the Huskies by Balthasar.
Gedney notes, “In addition to Coach B., I really appreciated the way Pat Babcock (former tennis coach and present womens Athletic Director) supported me during that difficult time with the AIAW issue. She was one of the main reasons my scholarship was reinstated and I was able to complete my education and playing career at UConn. I will never forget what she did for me and am forever grateful to her.”
In Balthaser's first year, and Gedney’s senior year, she coached the team to the first winning season in the history of the program, reaching the Eastern Regionals of the AIAW tournament. The team consisted of essentially the same players as the previous season.
Gedney played with a number of alumnae whose names still appear in the UConn record books: Cathy Bochain (1980-83), Rosemary Borsuk (1976-78), Roberta Wachtelhausen (1977-79) and Val Sirois (1978-79).
Gedney herself takes up some space in the list of top players. She is still 4th on the all-time scoring average list (16.0 ppg) and 6th in rebounding average (7.9 rpg). In single season games, she is tied for first with Peggy Meyers with 25 rebounds some 21 years after departing UConn. Gedney has three 30+ point games and two 20+ rebound games. She is currently 13th on the all-time scoring list with 1409 points in only 88 games. She was also the statistical leader for the team in points, rebounds and field goal percentage in 1979-80 and 1980-81. And during her senior year, she was the first woman to reach the 1,000 point club in the history of the women’s program.
Since the WNBA wasn't an option in 1981, Gedney wasn't sure what to do with her education major and marketing minor. At first, she worked as a fitness instructor at a local health club, and then as a department manager at a sporting goods store, but they weren't good fits.
Gedney's brother, Tim, a retired Naval officer, and one of her good friends, a retired Army Lt Colonel and graduate of the first class of women at West Point, talked to her about their good experiences with the military. This gave Gedney the idea to speak with an Air Force recruiter. Then, in 1983, Gedney enlisted and became an airman in the Air Force as a dental technician.
After about 18 months of enlisted duty that included a few months of playing both basketball and softball at the Air Force Major Command level, Gedney applied for, and was accepted into Officers Training School (OTS). After graduating, OTS, Gedney was commissioned a second lieutenant was trained as an intelligence officer for the Air Force.
One of first assignments was to work with “electronic combat” aircraft in which the U.S. could battle the enemy by jamming their communications or radars rather than shooting or dropping bombs on them. Her Air Force duties have taken her across the country and to several overseas locations which include Japan, Korea, Germany, and Hawaii. Along the way, Gedney earned her MBA and anothers masters degree in Strategic Military Science.
On September 11, 2001 Gedney was working at the Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Virginia when the terrorists struck American targets. The people in that command were given the job of coordinating the intelligence among Federal agencies, the military and local officials such as police, fire and rescue personnel. Gedney became the Chief of Intelligence of the Joint Force Headquarters Homeland Security, Operations Division. Her duties also included creating a blueprint for future coordination efforts of intelligence across this interagency apparatus.
Gedney, now a Lt Colonel, just completed her 20th year of service as an Air Force Intelligence Officer and is pondering retirement from the military. However, she would like to continue the work she does now, as a civilian.
When asked to recall her days playing basketball for UConn, Gedney says many things have changed in the last 25 years.
”If we managed to persuade all of our friends, roommates and some of our family members to come to the games, we could get maybe get a hundred people to show up,” she laughs. “We would play with water dripping into the old field house and on to the court. We thought we were lucky when they made the people stop running on the track that surrounded the court during our games.”
UConn played a schedule that was mostly regional and had rivalries with teams such as St. John’s, Northeastern, New Hampshire and Vermont. Another rival was regional powerhouse Southern Connecticut State University, whose best player was Cathy Inglese (1980 grad), now coach of Boston College.
In Gedney’s junior year, the Huskies made a trip through the south to play Duke and North Carolina. Unlike today’s team, though, the Huskies traveled fourth class – in a rented bus.
There have been a lot of changes for the UConn women’s teams through the years. The recruiting arena is much larger. Geno Auriemma was brought in to coach in 1985 after Jean Balthasar left. Players are bigger, more athletic and more talented. But one thing has not changed, and that is the players’ loyalty to the UConn program.
”My car’s license plate is UCON44 [her number at UConn]. I still go up to UConn for the alumnae weekends and whenever I’m there I pick up more UConn sweatshirts. I follow the team. In fact, when I was stationed in Norfolk, I went to the UConn-Old Dominion game. I wore my UConn sweatshirt and was not a crowd favorite, to say the least,” Gedney said. "My parents, who made the trek from the suburbs of Maryland to Storrs more often than some of the local players parents, still call to tell me that UConn is playing on T.V. or send me clippings of newspaper articles in the mail. Whenever my Mom comes to the house to see a game, she arrives in her UCONN sweats and kuzzie cup for her beer. They still have the fever!”
What does she think of Geno Auriemma?
“When I played, everyone just kind of did whatever they wanted to do each time down the court. We would rarely get past the first or second option on any given play. There was no discipline, and the plays weren’t enforced by the coaching staff. It was often “helter skelter”. I think it would have been fun to play for Geno, where everyone knows their roles and understands just what’s expected of them,” said Gedney. “He’s hard on them, but in the end, they know that the system he created works if everyone does their job”.
“I think he’s just great. Geno has charisma; he could sell ice to Eskimos. But what I appreciated most about him when I met him at the first alumni basketball weekend was that he made the effort to talk to and about players who never even played for him. He makes us “old timers” feel like we were an integral a part of the team’s history and tradition and that what we did, way back when no one seemed to care, were the building blocks of the program that exists today. He’s a very warm and genuine person, and yes, I have seen him during practices”, she laughes.
When asked if she would have given the WNBA a try if it had been around in 1981, Gedney laughs. “I would have like to have tried, but I’m sure I wouldn’t have been good enough to have played at that level. But I’m very glad for the WNBA because if I couldn’t see Sue Bird play again, I would just die.”
A true blue UConn fan, Gedney also has strong feelings about rival Tennessee.
”I hate Tennessee. I hate Pat Summitt, not as a person but as the Tennessee coach. I hate the color orange, have you seen those outfits she wears? In fact, if I’m going to eat a piece of fruit, I’m going to have an apple, never an orange,” said Gedney. “I have a friend who’s a die hard Tennessee fan and whenever the teams play we make some kind of bet. I don’t care where we are in the world, I have to call her after UConn beats Tennessee.” Gedney laughs. “Seriously, I love the UConn-Tennessee rivalry, it’s a cool rivalry that’s good for the programs, good for CBS, ESPN, good for the fans and good for women’s sports in general.”
What is it about UConn that inspires such loyalty?
”I guess it sounds corny, but I really liked being part of a team that worked together for a common goal, that sense of belonging. It’s also what I enjoy about being in the military. I like feeling that I’m part of something bigger than just myself, where I can be a valuable contributor,” Gedney said.
Gedney’s value to the military and the country’s security is unequivocal, but her worth to the UConn women’s basketball program is a bit more obscure. Would UConn still be doling out scholarships and patting players on the heads if Gedney and her teammates hadn’t stood up to the administration? Perhaps Huskymania would have arrived at Storrs eventually, but Gedney’s commitment to playing for excellence certainly helped the program along. She should remembered along with all the other players who helped advance the Husky program to the top tier where it resides today.