In this Women’s History Month post, I’ll be writing about ten great female athletes from New York City. As in past posts about New York’s athletes, I apply a someone flexible definition as to who is ‘from’ New York. It’s not necessarily enough to be born in NYC. I look at women who developed their athletic careers here. I include women who performed for schools in New York, university teams in the five boroughs, and professional sports teams and clubs in New York. The list is not meant to be a definitive ‘Top 10″ list. This subject needs much more thorough research than that. Nor is the list in order.
The distribution of sports is affected by the sports women have been able to compete in as well as sports that are promoted to women in New York City. Of course, until very recently, women were not able to compete in many sports, and opportunities to compete professionally are still very limited. Several NYC high schools, one in particular, have produced talented female basketball players. Conversely, a number of metro-area schools in the suburbs have produced talented soccer players not listed here, such as former Rutgers star Carli Lloyd. Also, NYC boasted a professional women’s basketball team until 2018; however a women’s professional soccer team has yet to exist.
So here’s the list:
Althea Gibson–tennis player
Though born in Silver, South Carolina, Gibson grew up in Harlem and trained at the Cosmopolitan Tennis Club in the Sugar Hill neighborhood. She would go on to win five major tennis tournaments, including Wimbledon twice. She was honored with a ticker-tape parade on Broadway (Gertrude Ederle is the only other individual athlete to receive that honor).
Chamique Holdsclaw–basketball player
Holdsclaw was born and raised in Queens and starred at the basketball powerhouse Christ the King High School in the Middle Village. She then led the University of Tennessee Lady Volunteers to three straight NCAA titles from 1996-98 under coach Pat Summit. She had an 11 year career in the WNBA primarily with the Washington Mystics and the LA Sparks, winning numerous honors.
Natasha Hastings was born in Brooklyn and ran track at A Philip Randolph High School in Harlem. She then enrolled in the University of South Carolina and starred on the track team, earning the nickname “the 400M Diva”. She won Gold Medals in the 4×400 relays in the 2008 and 2016 Olympics and has won golds in numerous other competitions.
Carol Heiss–figure skater
Carol Heiss, later Carol Heiss Jenkins, is one of the most accomplished figures skaters ever. Born in Manhattan, she was competing by age six and coached by legend Pierre Brunet. She won her first title at age 11. In the 1956 Olympics in Rome she won Silver in the Ladies Singles. She then won five straight Ladies Singles World Championships, one of three women to do so. In the 1960 Olympics at Squaw Valley, she won the Gold Medal and was ranked first by all nine judges.
Nancy Lieberman–basketball player
Nancy Lieberman was born in Brooklyn but grew up in Far Rockaway and was a star player at Far Rockaway High School. She then attended and played basketball at Old Dominion University from 1976-1980. There she earned the nickname ‘Lady Magic’, a reference to Magic Johnson. She competed for the USA Women’s basketball team and won Gold Medals a the the 1975 Pan-Am games and the 1979 World Championships. After college, she competed in various leagues, including the men’s league USBL. At age 39 she was drafted by the Phoenix Mercury and played a season.
Gertrude Ederle, known as ‘Trudy’, was one of the greatest female sports stars ever and one of the symbols of the Roaring 20s. She was born in Manhattan and began competing as a swimmer at an early age, swimming for the Women’s Swimming Association which produced many stars. She was expected to dominate women’s swimming at the 1924 Olympics in Paris, but surprisingly she only won two individual Bronze Medals and a Gold in the 4×100 relay. However, her great fame happened afterwards when she turned professional and prepared to swim the English Channel, still considered a daring feat. She failed in her first attempt. However, on August 6 1926 she swam across the channel in 14 hours and 34 minutes, setting the record for both men and women (she was the first woman). The news caused a sensation and she was greeted with a ticker-tape parade, a rare honor for an individual woman, in Manhattan.
Like Ederle, Ethelda Bleibtrey (later Ethelda Schlatke) learned to swim at the Women’s Swimming Association in Manhattan. In 1920 she won Gold Medals in all three women’s swimming events at the Amsterdam Olympics, despite there not being a backstroke race for women, which was her strongest event.
Tina Charles–basketball player
Tina Charles was born in Jamaica, Queens and became a star player at the famous Christ the King High School, which led her to be recruited by the NCAA powerhouse University of Connecticut. With Connecticut she won two NCAA championships in 2009 and 2010, and in 2010 she won the John Wooden Award for the best college player. She has since played in the WNBA, primarily with the New York Liberty, and also plays in league overseas. She has won many awards professionally including the 2012 WNBA Most Valuable Player. She has also won Gold Medals with the USA at the 2012 and the 2016 Olympic Games, starting in both finals.
Sue Bird–basketball player
Sue Bird is one of the most accomplished professional women’s athletes ever. She was born in Syosset on Long Island, New York, but she transferred to Christ the King High School in Queens to compete in basketball. She won the state title in 1998 and was chosen as the New York State Player of the Year. Since then she has played basketball for the University of Connecticut, the Seattle Storm in the WNBA, the USA Olympic team, and three professional Russian teams. She has won two NCAA championships, the Naismith College Player of the Year award, three WNBA championships, four Euroleague championships, and four Olympic Gold Medals, and countless other honors.
Teresa Weatherspoon–basketball player
Teresa Weatherspoon starred for the New York Liberty from 1997-2003, to date the club’s most successful period. She joined as an 11-year veteran of college and professional basketball and an Olympic Gold Medal winner with the USA in 1988. Between 1997-2002 she helped lead the team to four WNBA finals but they lost in each one. Her 50 foot shot at the buzzer to win game 2 of the 1999 final remains one the Liberty’s great moments. They have not reached the final since Weatherspoon’s departure. Despite only 8 years in the WNBA she remains 2nd in career assists and was the defensive player of the year twice.
This is a list of extras that I did give some consideration to. However, it is not a list of 11-15, and again is in no particular order.
Cristina Teuscher was a swimmer at Columbia University and the USA Olympic team, winning Gold in the 1996 Olympics in the 4×200 Freestyle relay. Born in the Bronx, she was an all NCAA athlete at Columbia for four straight years.
Rachel Daly is an English soccer player who played for the St. John’s University women’s soccer team from 2012-2015, setting most of the team’s records. She has since become a regular on the English National Team.
Kristine Lilly is the most capped international soccer player ever, having played for the US Women’s National Team 354 times. She played for the powerhouse University of North Carolina team and won two World Cups with the USA. She was born in New York City but grew up in Connecticut.
Genevieve Hecker, later Genevieve Stout, was golfer and won the US Women’s Amateur tournament in 1901 and 1902. She published a book Golf for Women, the first book ever for women golfers. Born in Darian Connecticut, she is buried in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery.
Lucy Barnes Brown won the inaugural US Women’s Amateur golf tournament in 1895 representing the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club. She was born in New York City.
Grete Waitz was a Norwegian long distance runner but became perhaps New York City’s most recognizable female athlete, winning the New York City Marathon a remarkable nine times. She fist won in 1978 when we competed at the personal invitation of marathon founder Frank Lebow. She set a world record.