By Marty Gordon
As we look back on 2022, Radford University took a moment to remember former athletic director Chuck Taylor and women’s basketball coach Charlene Curtis after their sudden passing.
Both the men’s and women’s basketball teams are honored the two with a patch with their individual initials on home and away uniforms.
Charles David “Chuck” Taylor passed away in September and was the first-ever men’s basketball head coach and athletics director in school history.
Taylor served as athletics director from 1974-1996, leading Radford on a remarkable journey from a six-sport unaffiliated small college program to Division I. Today, the Highlanders sponsor 16 varsity sports and have proudly played at the Division I level since 1984.
During his tenure, Radford Athletics was nationally recognized as a leader in opportunities for women and minorities, as well as in graduation rates for student-athletes. In competition, seven different programs achieved national rankings in his time guiding the Highlanders.
Also serving as men’s basketball coach from 1974-78, Taylor compiled a 56-43 record, never suffering a losing season and setting the stage for the program’s future success.
The Radford Athletics Hall of Fame inducted Taylor in its third-ever class, enshrining him alongside Nan Millner (women’s basketball), Steve Robinson (men’s basketball) and Dante Washington (men’s soccer) in 1997. He was also inducted into the Big South Conference Hall of Fame in 2006.
Curtis passed away in August and was a true trailblazer at both Radford University and in the broader collegiate athletics landscape, she was a two-time member of the Radford University Board of Visitors.
“Charlene Curtis is one of Radford University’s most accomplished alumni,” said Director of Athletics Robert Lineburg. “She was an outstanding student, a tremendous basketball player, an excellent musician, and a great coach and administrator. She has had and will continue to have a profound impact on our university. Charlene was the coach that made a difference in her players lives by teaching them so many foundational values that impacted them in so many positive ways. In addition, Charlene loved Radford University and remained involved throughout her life by devoting her time, service, and money to helping so many young people. Today is a difficult day for the Highlander family, but we know her incredible legacy will live on at Radford University. I speak for myself and countless others in saying that it was a true honor and privilege to know Charlene Curtis.”
Curtis was the first African-American to play on the Radford women’s basketball team in 1972 and the first 1,000-point scorer – male or female – in Radford basketball history. After her playing career ended, she secured her first job as a teacher and band director in Bedford County, Va., where she served as the first African American teacher and coach ever at her school.
Her coaching career took her back to the collegiate ranks where she earned a graduate degree and worked on the staff of legendary head coach Debbie Ryan at the University of Virginia.
Curtis would eventually return to Radford as the women’s basketball program’s head coach from 1984-90, posting a 121-53 (.695) record overall and an incredible 46-2 (.958) mark in Big South Conference play.
She was a two-time Big South Coach of the Year, leading the Highlanders to four Big South regular season championships, three Big South Tournament championships, and an appearance in the 1989 WNIT.
“On behalf of our current team, staff and alumni, we are saddened to hear about the passing of Charlene Curtis,” said Head Women’s Basketball Coach Mike McGuire. “Radford has lost an amazing pioneer, leader, teacher, and coach. Quite simply, Charlene is a legend for our women’s basketball program. Charlene had incredible careers at Radford, both as a student athlete and a coach. Each season, we could feel the impact that Charlene has had on the women’s basketball program here. She helped to raise the bar and expectations for women’s basketball success at Radford. Charlene loved Radford and was committed to making a difference for the young women in our program. She is the epitome of what a dedicated and invested alumna is all about. But, even with all of the success that she had, Charlene will be remembered for the type of person she was. The way she cared about other people and encouraged them to pursue excellence will never be forgotten by anyone who ever met her. She lived a life that impacted others and must be celebrated!”
From there, she would go on to become the first African-American women’s basketball head coach in the history of the Atlantic Coast Conference at Wake Forest University. Curtis also made stops at Temple University as their first-ever African-American head women’s basketball coach and at the University of Connecticut as an assistant under Geno Auriemma.
Down the road, she was named the head of officiating for women’s basketball in the ACC and contributed to ESPNU and Fox Sports South as a women’s basketball analyst.
Her accomplishments, both on the sidelines and in the community, led to the dedication of the Radford women’s basketball coach’s suite in her name on Feb. 5, 2022.