Posts Tagged ‘Norfolk Scope’
The Virginia Wave was a short-lived franchise in the all-but-forgotten Women’s American Basketball Association which operated in the autumn of 1984.
The WABA was the brainchild of Bill Byrne, a Columbus, Ohio-based sports promoter who had launched the American Professional Slo-Pitch League (men’s softball) and the original Women’s Professional Basketball League (WPBL) in the late 1970’s. The WPBL flamed out in 1981 after completing its third season and the WABA represented Byrne’s attempt to learn from the mistakes of the first league and to capitalize on the expected Gold Medal performance of the U.S. Women’s Olympic basketball team at the 1984 Los Angeles summer games.
Announced in March 1984, Byrne’s initials plans called for a summer-time league, composed of 8-12 franchises playing a 22-game schedule. Individual player salaries would range from $5,000 to $10,000 and total annual operating budgets were pegged around $300,000. But Byrne’s plans and financial backing were in constant flux. The planned summer schedule was quickly pushed back to the fall. Nine cities were represented at the WABA’s college and veteran draft in Columbus on April 25th, 1984, but only five of these cities made it to the opening bell in October.
“Bill Byrne was having difficulty getting owners to put up the money for all the teams,” recalled Columbus Minks player Molly Bolin, who lived with the Byrne family during the 1984 season. “He would not let that stop him and believed that if he got the league started, people would believe and the money would fall into place.”
One of the cities that fell by the wayside was Baltimore, Maryland. The unnamed Baltimore team took part in the WABA draft in April 1984, selecting two-time Clemson University All-American Barbara Kennedy with its first round selection. Long-time Morgan State men’s basketball Head Coach Nat Frazier signed on to coach the squad and serve as General Manager. But in mid-September 1984, less than a month before the start of the season, the WABA pulled out of Baltimore and relocated the franchise to Norfolk, Virginia and the city’s 10,000-seat Norfolk Scope. The Scope was the home of the powerhouse Old Dominion University women’s basketball program, which had produced one of the women’s game’s greatest early stars, Nancy Lieberman, who played for the WABA’s Dallas Diamonds franchise. The league hoped local enthusiasm for ODU women’s hoops would rub off on the WABA brand. The team would be called the Virginia Wave.
The WABA’s chaotic pre-season carried over into a dysfunctional, under-capitalized season that launched with six teams on October 9th, 1984. Wave players, along with players on the Atlanta Comets and Columbus Minks, did not receive paychecks. With the exception of the Dallas Diamonds franchise, crowds of 500 or less were the norm throughout the league.
Lacking funds for air travel, the Wave endured epic bus trips, including a brutal late November swing that took the club from Atlanta (where less than 100 fans turned out) to Dallas to Houston for three games in four days. As it turned out, these would be the Wave’s final games:
“The players and I were discouraged prior to <the Dallas> game because we had not been paid for the season. We talked to our coach and he assured us that we would be paid prior to game,” recalled Wave captain Barbara Kennedy. “So we played professionally and fought hard to beat Dallas. When we returned back to Virginia, we thought that the check was valid but it was not good. Then immediately we checked out of the hotel and departed to our destinations. Again, we lifted our heads and left Virginia but <it was> bitter because we were losing our passion for the game, leaving our teammates and starting over. That was a sad day for us.”
On November 28th, 1984 Byrne announced that six to twelve games would be cut from the end of the WABA regular season schedule.
The following day, disgruntled WABA investors led by Dallas owner and league finance committee chaiman Ed Dubaj forced Byrne to resign. Dubaj shuttered the league office in Columbus and immediately cancelled the remaining games of the three most financially troubled franchises – Atlanta, Columbus and the Wave. The Wave finished their only campaign with a 5-9 record, eight games shy of completing their 22-game schedule.
The WABA made brave noises about returning in 1985 with a new league office in Dallas led by Dubaj, but was never heard from again after a hastily scheduled championship game between the Dallas Diamonds and Chicago Spirit in December 1984.
“We laughed, cried and were grateful for the experiences and memories,” said Barbara Kennedy in 2011. “We certainly wanted to finish the season but the league had some challenges. But what I can say is that my teammates were close and stayed strong throughout the time and we will always remember our times together and remember <that> we were pioneers. I am proud of my teammates, our coach, the league and thankful for the opportunity, the resources and the many memories…I loved all my experiences.”
Barbara Kennedy-Dixon was named to the Atlantic Coast Conference’s 50th Anniversary Team in 2002. Today she is Associate Athletic Director/Senior Women’s Administrator at her alma mater, Clemson University.