Interview Conducted by: Darius Jennings, DJ Hill, Adrian Gamble, Chris Brathwaite, Khalek Shepherd, and Maurice Canady
Cathy Grimes-Miller is one of the greatest women’s basketball players to ever come through the University of Virginia. Cathy Grimes-Miller was born and raised in Alexandria, VA, where she attended T.C. Williams High School. At her time at UVA she double majored in English and Spanish and made dean’s list on multiple occasions. Just as she excelled in the classroom, her play on the court matched and even surpassed it. She was the captain of the women’s basketball team. During her career at UVA she received numerous athletic honors. She was a Kodak District III All-American, Academic All-American, a Finalist for National Player-of-the-Year, NCAA Scholar Athlete-of-the-Year, ACC Scholar Athlete-of-the-year, All-ACC, and ACC Honor Roll. Grimes-Miller ended her career as the All-Time leading scorer, rebounder and field goal percentage shooter. Her jersey number #25 was retired, making her the first women’s basketball player in program history to receive this honor. She was then honored as an ACC legend for the class of 2006.
After graduating from the University as an undergrad with her B.A. in 1985, she then entered the University of Virginia School of Law and earned her J.D. in 1988. She was affiliated with programs while in Law School. She was involved with the Virginia Tax Law Review, The Raven Society, Graduate Advisor, Black Law Students Association and was a mentor in the Upward Bound Program. After graduating from Law School she went into employment with the firm McGuire, Woods, Battle & Boothe in Alexandria, VA from 1988 to 1990 were she conducted commercial litigation in the areas of insurance defense, products liability, breach of contract, and personal injury. Grimes-Miller then moved on to work for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in Rockville, MD. Here her duties consisted primarily of serving as the principal liaison attorney for the FDA’s Division of Import Operations and Policy and as liaison attorney for the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. In September 1993, Grimes-Miller moved to the U.S. Department of Education in Washington D.C. and his still serving in the present. Her duties consist primarily of serving as legal counsel to the Department’s Office of Innovation and Improvement and Office of Elementary and Secondary Education. When she is not working, she is coaching basketball on the side for Potomac Landing Community Center, Grace Brethren Christian School, her alma mater T.C. Williams, and an AAU team P.V. Hustle, INC. On top of working government associations and coach basketball, Grimes-Miller received award for her work in the community. In 1987, she received the NAACP Achievement award, and in 1995 was awarded with the Greater Washington Area Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs’ Archie Avedisian Award.
Cathy Grime-Miller was a great individual for this interview with all her accomplishments at the University academically, athletically, and socially. She can be considered an important figure at UVA in the time she was there from 1981 to 1988. Our group was excited to interview her to try to connect her experiences with subjects that we covered in class.
Group: What were the important factors that ultimately influenced your decision to come to the University of Virginia?
Cathy: There were a number of factors that influenced my decision to attend UVA. First and foremost, I wanted to attend a school that would offer me the best of both worlds – a great academic experience and an opportunity to compete at the highest levels in women’s basketball. I felt that UVA offered me the best combination of the two. A second factor was the opportunity to play early and to help build a program into a national contender. Debbie Ryan, who was the head coach at the time, had told me that I was her top recruit – I wanted to go to a program where I was wanted, would have an opportunity to play early, and could make a major contribution to building a program into a national contender. Finally, the location was also appealing to me. UVA was relatively close to my hometown, which would allow my family to see me play.
Group: In class we discuss this notion of student athletes being discouraged from taking certain classes and declaring majors. You double majored in both English and Spanish, so what made you want to declare those as your majors? Did you get any resistance from the academic support system in your sport when I came to declaring your majors?
Cathy: Originally, I considered majoring in math or engineering. I was cautioned that either one of those majors would be extremely challenging with basketball due to the huge time commitment that both required. In the end, I decided to major in English because I always enjoyed reading and writing and, after taking a few English courses at UVA, became intrigued by some of the great literary works and realized that I was a “pretty good” writer. I also was considering attending law school after college and knew that majoring in English would help to prepare me for law school. I decided to minor in Spanish primarily because I thought it would be useful to learn a second language and had dreams of playing professional basketball in a Spanish-Speaking country one day.
Group: Did you have any African American professors within your majors? Do you wish you had more African American professors or did the race of your professor even matter?
Cathy: There were several African American professors in the English Department when I was at UVA. I had great experiences with all of them, I think, primarily because the classes that they taught were smaller, which helped students develop a more personal relationship with them and made the professors seem more approachable. Also, most of the African American professors at UVA when I was there seemed to take a special interest in making sure students of color had a positive experience at UVA. I also should mentioned that I had some wonderful white professors as well – men who took a special interest in me, challenged me intellectually, and encouraged me to continue to develop my unique talents and gifts. I did not have any African American professors in my Spanish courses.
Group: Where you aware of programs like the Peer Advisor Program, Transition Programs, Black Student Alliance, and Office of African American Affairs? Did they have any positive affect on your time at UVA?
Cathy: I was aware of the Black Student Alliance and Office of African American Affairs (I think it was called the Office of Minority Affairs) at the time. They had a positive influence on me because they were places I knew I could go to get help, support, or guidance when necessary. I often used the computer at OAAA to type and print my papers (believe it or not, computers were not as widespread then as they are now J). I was not aware of the Peer Advisor and Transition programs.
Group: Who was some influential African American figures on Grounds during your time at the University?
Cathy: Two influential African American figures that I remember on grounds during my time at UVA were Professor Angela Davis, and, believe it or not, Ralph Sampson, who was widely regarded as the best college basketball player in the country. There also was an African American dean whose name escapes me at the moment.
Group: In class we read articles from the Cavalier Daily. There were two articles in particular that was intriguing to me which was published in 1983. One involved Ralph Sampson and his involvement with the student body, especially the black student body and the push for student equality. The other covered the demonstration that occurred April 29th, 1983 in front of the Luther P. Jackson house and Rotunda steps, lead by the BSA Chairman Louis Anderson. How aware were you of these protest and demonstration on Grounds during the early 80s? Did you ever get involved just as Ralph Sampson did?
Cathy: I was aware of several protests and demonstrations at UVA in the early 1980s. Louis Anderson was one of my classmates, and I vaguely remember attending the protest in front of the Rotunda. I tried to be active in the African American student community at UVA by attending BSA functions and volunteering my time when possible. One of the organizations in which I participated was NCAA Volunteers for Youth, through which I served as a “big sister” and mentor for a young, low-income black female in Charlottesville.
Group: The purpose of this class Black Fire is to appreciate the black history here at UVA and the black people that had a direct hand in developing and changing the culture of this University. Was there a strong push for “black appreciation and culture” among the black community?
Cathy: Yes, I recall a very active black student body at UVA when I was there. We were a very cohesive unit and strived to be an integral part of the University community at large. As I recall, my admissions class in 1981 had the largest percentage of minority first year students in the history of UVA.
Group: Can you describe what it was like being an African American student-athlete at UVA in the early 80s? How was the environment when it came to race relations?
Cathy: It was tough being a black student-athlete at UVA in the early 1980’s. Unfortunately, we did not have programs in place (like the Transitions program) to assist black student-athletes in making the transition from high school to college or assimilating into a predominantly white institution. For the most part, upper-class African American student-athletes took responsibility for providing support, guidance, and mentoring to 1stand 2ndyear African American student-athletes to assist them in making the transition from high school to college, assimilating into the African American and larger student communities, and improving their chances of being successful at UVA academically, athletically, and socially.
Group: Seeing that you attended the UVA in the early 80s, would you say that the black student body was together? Was there a sense of separation between black athletes and black non-athletes?
Cathy: Overall, I would say that there was a lot of unity in the black student body as a whole. There was an unspoken rule at UVA that all black students spoke and reached out to each other, regardless of whether you knew the other person or not. As black student-athletes, we had to make a special effort to be active in the black student community as a whole because of our demanding schedules. Also, the head coaches of the athletic teams usually were white and focused primarily on winning basketball or football games (or whatever sport it was) and, therefore, were not necessarily sensitive to specific issues facing black student-athletes. In some ways, there was a disconnect between black student-athletes and black non-student athletes because student-athletes spent the vast majority of our time training, practicing, and participating in their respective athletic events and had very little time to socialize or get involved in other activities. Because of that, most black student-athletes relied on the athletic department for support, while black non-athletes seemed to rely more on black sororities and fraternities and organizations like BSA and OAAA.
Group: What was it like playing in the ACC during that period? Was there any apparent racism during your time with regards to travel and away games?
Cathy: Fortunately, I do not recall any incidents of blatant racism when I played at UVA. I was a huge Georgetown men’s basketball fan in high school, however, and continued to follow them in college. I recall numerous incidents of racism where fans at visiting arenas would throw banana peels, wear ape masks, and yell racial slurs as direct assaults against Patrick Ewing and the other Georgetown players. Also, during that time, Jimmy “the Greek” Snyder was fired as a commentator for CBS for racial comments he made about black college athletes being dominant in sports like football and basketball because they were “bred” to be better athletes than whites. It was not unusual for sports commentators to make similar comments, usually referring to white athletes who made great plays as “intelligent” and referring to black athletes who made great plays as “strong” or “athletic.”
Group: Would you say you ever had trouble with claim this University as your own as a young, black female athlete?
Cathy: No, as a young black female student-athlete, I have not had trouble claiming UVA as my own. While I am not proud of the history of race relations at UVA, I am not proud of the history of race relations in this country either. I recognized from an early age that prejudice and discrimination are bred by ignorance and fear; I committed to setting high standards for myself in the classroom, on the basketball court, and in life in order to knock down the negative stereotypes about black people generally and black student-athletes specifically. I strive to represent myself, my family, and my people in the best possible light not only to be a positive role model for young people, but also, to show the world that, when given an opportunity, black people can achieve great things and that you can be a great athlete and a great student at the same time. I have always been proud to be a UVA student-athlete and grateful for the opportunity to attend such a great academic institution and compete in the greatest basketball conference in the world – the ACC. Also, in recent years when there have been racial tensions at UVA, it seems like the University leadership has spoken out against racism and taken decisive steps to address the issues.
Group: You have a daughter, Chaise Miller, and nephew, Khalek Shepherd, a student-athlete, who attend UVA. Based on your experiences at the University, did you have any concerns with them enrolling into UVA?
Cathy: I was proud that both Chaise and Khalek were going to attend my alma mater. I knew they would receive a great education and was confident that they would have positive overall experiences. I was somewhat concerned about Chaise attending such a large university but felt that if she was going to attend a large school, UVA definitely was the right choice (although UVA is large in numbers, it has a “small school feel” to it and was very familiar to Chaise, since we had visited the grounds and attended athletic events on numerous occasions). I was less concerned about Khalek attending such a large school because I knew that, as a student-athlete, he would have all of the support he needed from his upper-class teammates as well as the athletic department as a whole. I also was comforted by the knowledge that Chaise and Khalek would have each other close by if either one ever needed anything, including a shoulder to lean on.