By Ericka Blount Danois on Mar 16th 2010 1:38PM Black Voices

It took three trips to Madison Square Garden, but Boys & Girls basketball coach Ruth Lovelace finally has her trophy and her place in history. Right on time for Women’s History month, she has become the first woman to lead a boys PSAL basketball program to a championship, her first title in her 16 years of coaching at the Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, program.

The second seeded Boys & Girls defeated the No. 1 Cardozo, 55-50, at Madison Square Garden this past Saturday. This is their first championship since 1979. Boys and Girls had turned out legends, such as Pearl Washington, Connie Hawkins, and Lenny Wilkens, but had fallen on hard times, and Lovelace was hired by Principal Frank Mickens in 1994 to turn the program around. It was an unprecedented move that made her the first woman in the PSAL to coach an upper tier-boys basketball program.

“At the time the team wasn’t doing well at all,” Lovelace told Aol. Black Voices. “They weren’t making the playoffs. That was unheard of given their history. Mickens was really trying to get the program back in the right direction. A lot of people felt like–you’re trying to move in the right direction why would you hire a female?”

“He [Mickens] deserves all the credit,” Lovelace said. “Nobody would have ever hired a female back at that time. I was young, I was 23, but he had a vision for me that I couldn’t see for myself. I know he’s looking down.”

Mickens proved to be a visionary. Every year following, Lovelace took the team to the finals.

“I proved them wrong,” says Lovelace. “My first year there we went to the quarter finals, which is the Elite 8. We wound up losing to Lincoln with Stephon Marbury. Mickens means everything to me. Some people thought it was a publicity stunt, but he was brilliant. Fast forward 16 years and we’re proud champions.”

Lovelace said a couple of months before Mickens passed away she went to him and asked him if anyone had ever questioned him about his decision. His response was: “Are you kidding me?! They would never question me about a decision I made!” But Lovelace admits there were whispers and, “I hate to say, but I’m sure there were people who wanted to see me fail.”

Lovelace, a former standout basketball player at Seton Hall University before knee injuries derailed her career, strives for excellence from her players in the classroom and on the court. If players aren’t doing well in school, she requires them to sit out, even if they are star players.

“One of my star players was acting up today; I kicked him out of practice. We scrimmage tomorrow, so he won’t be playing with us,” Lovelace says. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a star or you’re the twelfth man on the bench, I’m trying to teach them life lessons, because basketball will end for them one day, and I want them to have life skills to make them decent upstanding young men. If you’re not a good kid, you’re not playing for me.

Lovelace and her champions dedicated their victory to Dr. Mickens:

“It’s bigger than just basketball,” says Lovelace. “When a guy comes back and says I’m going to send you an invitation to my wedding, or I just had my first kid, or I just bought my first house-those kind of things are what I want my legacy to be about, not because I won a city championship.” [She pauses.] “But still at the end of the day to know that you were the best team in N.Y.C., it’s like now, what do you guys have to say?”

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