Celebrating Black History
In honor of Black History Month, the University of Wisconsin athletic department will celebrate the stories of 28 former African-American student-athletes or coaches, one for each day in the month of February.
The UW athletic program launched its “Celebrate UW’s Black History” section on UWBadgers.com in 2003. It has been updated every year with new information and multimedia offerings and is one of the finest college resources for African-American athletics history in the nation.
Today we celebrate the first African-American basketball coaches in the Big Ten Conference: Bill Cofield and Edwina Qualls.
At a time when hardly any African-Americans were head coaches, the University of Wisconsin had two coaching its men's and women's basketball teams.
In 1976, Bill Cofield became the first African-American to coach basketball in the Big Ten Conference. That same summer, Edwina Qualls was hired as the Big Ten's first Black head women's basketball coach.
Cofield came to Wisconsin from his assistants position at the University of Virginia. The Big Ten Conference, founded in 1896, had never had a Black head coach. Virginia had been the ACC qualifier for the NCAA Tournament in 1976. A native of Carrier Mills, Ill, Cofield was a 1963 graduate of McKendree College in Lebanon, Ill. He received his masters degree form the University of Kentucky.
Prior to his move to Virginia, Cofield was the nation's first Black athletic director and head coach at a predominantly white institution of higher learning at the College of Racine in 1973. He hired current UW men's basketball coach Bo Ryan as his assistant and the duo had a 14-15 record. The College of Racine closed its doors in 1974, and Cofield and Ryan separated for a year only to return to UW-Madison when Cofield accepted the head job and Ryan became his assistant, a position Ryan had through the next UW coaching transition from 1976-84.
While compiling a six year record of 61-103, Cofield did bring several Blue Chip recruits to town including the former all-time leading scorer Claude Gregory and Wes Mathews, who hit a half-court shot be beat Michigan State and Magic Johnson in 1979. Cofield resigned in 1982 and was later diagnosed with pancreatic cancer that same year. He died after a short illness in the summer of 1983 at the age of 43.
A native of Connecticut, Qualls came to UW after serving as a successful high school coach in New Haven's RC Lee High School where she accumulated an 82-15 record and made numerous trips to the Connecticut State High School Championships. She was the state high school coach of the year in 1975.
She received her bachelor and master's degrees in physical education from Southern Connecticut State College where she teamed with basketball great Louise O'Neal serving as her assistant basketball coach at Yale University prior to coming to Wisconsin.
At Wisconsin, Qualls was a member of the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) Division I Basketball Committee, and was the Midwest basketball coach at the National Sports Festival held in Colorado Springs in 1979. She had five winning seasons in her 10-year tenure and UW including a second place Big Ten Conference finish in 1983-84. The 13-5 conference record is still the most wins and the best the Badgers have finished in the Big Ten. Her career mark at UW was 131-141 upon her resignation in 1986.
She guided her 1981-82 squad to a 21-13 record (ties second most wins in program history) and to the Midwest AIAW Regional Championship title. The Badgers qualified for their first post-season tournament with that win, and beat Colorado in first-round action before bowing to national powerhouse Texas in the quarter-finals.