How a Coach Changed Basketball
Lucille Kyvallos discusses years of work in women’s sports
BY ANGELA LAGRECA
To appreciate legendary
basketball coach Lucille
Kyvallos and what she
achieved for women in
sports, you have to go back in time
— to the 1960s and ’70s.
“You know the expression ‘You
throw like a girl?’” Kyvallos tosses
out the question as easily as she
can sink a free throw.
“It’s an old expression, and some
of that still exists today,” says Kyvallos,
“but back in my day, boys
didn’t want to play with girls …
Back then was the dark ages —
you had to have dolls when you
were a little kid, you had assigned
When it came down to Barbie
dolls or basketball, the choice for
Kyvallos was clear.
“Basketball — I made a case for
it,” she says, even though “walking
the streets, people (then) were very
Kyvallos was a natural athlete
who grew up in Astoria and played
on the multicultural street in New
York City with the boys. She was
better in basketball than most of
her peers, female or male. A lot better.
She went on to teach physical
education at Queens College,
where she was a faculty member
for 30 years. But it was her 12-year
tenure as head coach at Queens
College, from 1968 to 1981, which
cemented her legacy.
Kyvallos not only developed the
Queens College women’s basketball
team from the ground up, but
she led them to the championships
— and in 1975, made history,
when she brought her team to play
at Madison Square Garden. It was
the fi rst women’s basketball game
to be played in that arena.
She has received many acknowledgements
and awards in her lifetime,
including the Joe Lapchick
Character Award in 2015, for demonstrated
throughout her basketball career.
Her 1972-73 squad was the fi rst
women’s basketball team to be inducted
into the New York City Basketball
Sherry Fitelson and Lucille Kyvallos.
Hall of Fame — where she
herself was also inducted.
She was also inducted into the
Queens College Athletics Hall of
Fame, and in 2017 Queens College
renamed their basketball court
Lucille Kyvallos Court in her honor.
This summer, Dan’s Papers was
honored to present Kyallos with
a special Out East End Impact
Award for Lifetime Achievement
Today, at age 89, Kyvallos may
be retired, but she is far from the
An avid, competitive tennis player
who plays for the United States
Tennis Association Senior League,
she had been preparing for an international
world tournament to be
held this month in Majorca, Spain,
until the USTA recently pulled all
of its teams due to COVID concerns.
We caught up with Kyvallos via
phone from her home in Sag Harbor
to talk about her career, how
she broke the mold for women in
sports and her insights on living a
long, healthy life.
Walk us through your approach
and your impact at Queens College.
Back then there was no interscholastic
program for girls in high
school in New York City, so I didn’t
have much to draw from — the
Catholic schools had some.
I was basically teaching the fundamentals
and training them and
doing all the things to make them
competent athletes — skills, tactics
and strategy — the way they
viewed themselves. For instance,
if there was a loose ball and two
opponents went for it, they would
stop instead of fi ghting for the ball.
I taught them to be assertive and
aggressive, to work hard, to take
responsibility, to rise to the occasion
under pressure, and to function
as a team.
And girls and women tend to
take a back seat in competition.
There was a book written back
in the 1980s or ’70s for managerial
women — “From Locker Room
to Boardroom” — to me that’s a
real path, learning to function as
a team, being assertive, setting
goals, and how to achieve those
goals. We do that now as women
but back then in the 1960s and
’70s it was unheard of.
Sex roles were assigned to us,
we couldn’t be who we really wanted
to be — we had to break those
barriers. What I did was I trained a
team to function very well and we
gained national recognition.
What was that path like leading
up to the game changer at
We presented ourselves at
Queens College as the model for
the city and Long Island. They had
just started to develop high school
programs for girls in the city and
we were the model — the gym was
packed all the time.
In 1973 we got to the fi nals and
lost to a little Catholic college (Immaculata
College) from Pennsylvania
— we were runners up. They
were an undefeated team … they
were undefeated for two and a
half years when we lost to them in
In 1975 we were invited to play
at Madison Square Garden, which
was a big deal. They had a colle-
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