overview

Pioneering women’s collegiate basketball figure Lucille Kyvallos served as head coach of the Queens College team for 12 years, including a historic game at Madison Square Garden in 1975, the first women’s collegiate basketball game ever played at the famous arena.

In 2017, the basketball court at Fitzgerald Gymnasium was renamed Lucille Kyvallos Court, making her the first woman in New York City to receive such an honor.

Header Photo
Credit: Queens Knights website, 2020.

History

Queens native Lucille Kyvallos (b. 1932) excelled at basketball from a young age, playing the game with boys on her block at a time when participating in sports was widely discouraged for girls and women. She grew up at 22-17 35th Street in Astoria. Hired by Queens College in 1966, Kyvallos transformed its women’s basketball team as head coach from 1968 to 1981 (with the exception of the 1979-1980 season). In a 2021 Gay City News article, she notes, “I always felt deprived of the opportunity to develop my own skills and all this motivation poured into girls’ and women’s sports.” Over time, her Queens College team went from having few players with high school training to becoming a model for the development of high school girls’ basketball in New York City and on Long Island.

Kyvallos is regarded as a pioneering figure in women’s collegiate basketball who also helped grow spectator and media interest in the game. She is credited with training women to be competitive athletes and changing the way that they viewed themselves in sports in spite of gender expectations of the time. In 2021, she told Gay City News that these early athletes were “…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.” The 1970s was an important decade for women’s sports; in 1972, legal progress was made with the passage of Title IX, which banned federally-funded educational institutions from discriminating against students on the basis of sex.

In 1973, Kyvallos had the AIAW national championships brought to Fitzgerald Gymnasium at Queens College, with the goal of introducing local high school girls to a major tournament. While Queens lost to the defending champions, Immaculata College, in the finals, the game drew a packed crowd of over 3,330 people and received national media coverage. The following year, Queens defeated Immaculata in a regular season game, breaking their two-and-a-half-year winning streak. Both the 1973 and 1974 games caught the interest of a Madison Square Garden executive, who invited Kyvallos to pick an opponent for her team to play at the famous arena. Knowing the importance of this watershed event — what would be the first women’s collegiate basketball game ever held at the Garden — Kyvallos chose Immaculata. The game took place on February 22, 1975, and drew nearly 12,000 spectators. Tennis superstar Billie Jean King, who herself made women’s sports history in 1973 for defeating Bobby Riggs in the “Battle of the Sexes,” was in attendance.

In her 12-year career as head coach, Kyvallos held an overall record of 239-77 and trained a number of influential women, including future WNBA president Donna Geils Orender and Gail Marquis, who played for the U.S. at the 1976 Olympics, the first time women’s basketball was held at the Games. Kyvallos served on the U.S. Olympic Committee from 1969 to 1972 and 1974 to 1976, and also coached the United States to a silver medal in the 1977 World University Games. By the time she retired as head coach of Queens College in 1981 (she stayed on as a faculty member until her retirement in 1995), division 1 schools had begun giving scholarships to female athletes.

In 2012, Kyvallos was an inaugural inductee into the Queens Athletic Hall of Fame. Five years later, in 2017, the college’s basketball court in Fitzgerald Gymnasium was renamed Lucille Kyvallos Court, making her the first woman in New York City to receive such an honor. Her 1972-73 Queens College team became the first women’s team to be inducted into the New York City Basketball Hall of Fame, and she herself was also inducted.

Building Information

  • Architect or Builder: unknown
  • Year Built: 1958 (Fitzgerald Gymnasium); renovated 2020

Sources

  1. Angela LaGreca, “How Legendary Basketball Coach Lucille Kyvallos Changed the Game,” Gay City News, October 4, 2021, bit.ly/3vIbWef. [source of Kyvallos quotes]

  2. “Basketball By Women At Garden,” The New York Times, February 22, 1975, 18.

  3. Harvey Araton, “A First at the Garden Earns an Encore,” The New York Times, January 2, 2015, nyti.ms/3jKKdVF.

  4. Lena Williams, “Garden Game Will Test Appeal Of Women’s Basketball Teams,” The New York Times, February 9, 1975, 196.

  5. Lena Williams, “Garden Game Will Test Appeal Of Women’s Basketball Teams,” The New York Times, February 9, 1975, 196.

  6. Lucille Kyvallos, phone call with Amanda Davis/NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, November 10, 2021.

  7. “Lucille Kyvallos ‘55,” Springfield College Athletics, bit.ly/3GaWg8e.

  8. Merle Exit, “Kyvallos Signature Unveiled at Queens College Basketball Court,” QNS, October 28, 2017, bit.ly/3ngcowB.

  9. Pamela Grundy and Susan Shackelford, Shattering the Glass: The Remarkable History of Women’s Basketball (New York: The New Press, 2005).

  10. Queens College Office of Communications, “Coach Lucille Kyvallos Named Finalist for 2019 Class of Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame,” Queens Knights, January 5, 2019, bit.ly/3C7Sgmw.

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