Piper's Passion

Steve McLaughlin photo
Steve McLaughlin photo

The following is an article that ran on Dec. 22, 2011, on www.NortheastConference.org (written by Amy Martin):

Central Connecticut State women's basketball coach Beryl Piper has had two different college basketball experiences, but for each the setting has been the same: the hardwood at CCSU's Detrick Gymnasium in New Britain. In the latest feature related to the NEC's 40th Anniversary celebration of Title IX, Piper touched on a wide variety of topics, reflects on her long history at CCSU and offers her views on the past, present and future of women's basketball.

The Past
Beryl Piper's story as a female student-athlete isn't one of struggle. It is a story highlighted by a thankful attitude toward her coaches and learning experiences, and one which emphasizes the rewards of hard work and dedication.

A student-athlete at CCSU from 1983-87, Piper helped the Blue Devils to their  winningest season in program history as a junior, which ended with a trip to the NCAA Division II quarterfinals. In her final two seasons in New Britain, she averaged 10.9 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, while starting in all 50 contests.

Only a few years removed from the first generation of those impacted by Title IX, Piper did not face the same inequities they had encountered, but if you were to ask the Blue Devil alumna about her experience as a college athlete, it is considerably different than that of her current crop of student-athletes.

In the mid-80s an athletic scholarship was a new perk and key motivator for female athletes, but they were limited in number. There was no team locker room, no strength and conditioning coach and no organized film sessions.

"Coach (Brenda) Reilly would put out film and if you wanted to watch the other team play, you just sort of did it on your own," Piper recalled. "It wasn't anything that was organized."
But over the course of her four years, improvements and progress occurred in New Britain. By her senior year the Blue Devils had a locker room, which featured a women's basketball mural painted by one of the girls on the softball team. There were even weights available for the girls to train with, although they weren't exactly female friendly.

"We got Nautilus weights and it was a big deal, but they were all huge because they were made for football players. So they weren't even beneficial to the smaller kids on the team. No one really cared that much about the women's program when I first got there."
But in those final two years of her playing career Piper achieved far more than just a successful win-loss record.

"Obviously my senior year we had the best record ever and there was a buzz around campus and a buzz around the community about the sport. All a sudden people started to take notice of the team."

For Piper, the following the team gained was one of the biggest rewards she took away from her final two years in New Brittan.

Well, that and her blue sweatsuit.

Piper recounted a recent practice in which she brought back the cropped blue sweatpants she was allowed to keep at the completion of her senior season.

"When I played you got your gear when you were a freshman, but it had to be returned at the end of the season. Then when you were seniors you were allowed to keep them. I'll never throw them away because I worked so hard to earn them."

When Piper recently donned those very sweats, her players were quick to question their coach's fashion sense.

"I looked kind of dorky but I didn't care."

As silly as her squad might have thought she looked, the pants are much more than a fashion statement to Piper, but rather a symbol of her four plus years of effort on the court and a physical representation of where hard work can take you.

The Present
These days Piper is back in Detrick Gymnasium, but instead of running down the court, she is the one pacing the sideline and directing the show.

After going 4-25 in her first season at Central, the Blue Devils have amassed a 55-46 record since. Piper now sports the highest winning percentage among Central's DI women's basketball coaches, and has taken CCSU to the NEC Tournament semifinals in each of the past three years.

And while there is no doubt the college basketball world has undergone plenty of changes over the past twenty-five years, there is one thing that has remained constant for both Piper and her athletes: respect and awareness.

"I look at the kids today and say, 'You have to respect what you have.' It's important that the kids who play for us understand the history of women's athletics."

When Piper compares the experiences of her current student-athletes to her own, it never fails to amaze her.

"You think about all the things kids do. I look at them in the weight room and the things they do in there I am just in awe. (Seeing) how much they lift and how they run with their strength and conditioning coach, the things that they can do are just amazing. It's awesome that they have the opportunity, and I just want them to respect everything they have."

And based on the Blue Devils performance so far this year it seems the team is heeding their coach's example of hard work and dedication.

"The teams in our conference are good, and we battle," said Piper of her Blue Devils, who have started off the season with wins over non-conference opponents from the Atlantic 10, America East, Patriot League and MAAC over the first month of competition.

"These kids have a little chip on their shoulder because people said we wouldn't be very good after we lost all the players we did, so to come out of the gate strong has been great. They're not afraid to take the shots they need to win. They're not over confident and are willing to put in the time to get better."

The Future
Piper sees a bright future for the sport, especially if those currently involved continue to support the growth of the game after their playing days are behind them.
"If (the current crop of players) don't watch the game who will? We have to make it important and the people who are involved need to make it important so that the sport continues to grow."

She reminds her athletes of this often.

"It's really important that if there's a game on you need to watch it because you don't want to lose all the things you have. You need to give back."

Piper herself is a fine example of giving back to the game. Prior to coaching at CCSU, she coached 19 seasons at nearby New Britain High School where she transformed a struggling program into a three-time state champion powerhouse that won nearly 300 games during her tenure.

There is one thing Piper would like to see more of and that's kids playing multiple sports as young athletes.

"I get a little scared because kids start playing so young and are focusing on one sport. It's a twofold issue. I think the game is good because the kids are starting younger and really focusing, but I also think you might have a really good athlete who gets burnt out. It really should be about the love of the game."

And there's no doubt that Piper possesses that passion for the sport. Moving forward she would like to see an emphasis on skill development for the sport overall, and for the Blue Devils specifically, continued growth in support from the community.

With no sign that the growth of the game will slow in the future, there is no doubt that Piper will continue be a teacher, proponent and most importantly an enthusiast for the sport of women's basketball.

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