Story coutesy of Taylor Powers, Malone University Sports Information Graduate Assistant
CANTON, Ohio - When Malone University (then Malone College) women’s basketball coach Patty Long first saw Gloria Blanks on a basketball court in the late 1970’s, she knew she was a special talent. Long had just finished her first season as the head coach at Malone and was looking for a couple of players from the recruiting circuit to take Malone to the next level. However, Long figured Blanks’ immense talent would ultimately be the reason she would miss out on luring her to Malone because Blanks had already received interest from Division I programs.
“I saw her play in high school and she was incredible,” said Long. “Everybody in the area was recruiting her so nobody thought we had a chance.”
However, Blanks and high school teammate Darlene Lewis were convinced by a friend to give Malone a look and Blanks immediately fell in love with the Malone community and its strong Christian faith.
Not many athletes were better representatives of Malone athletics during their time at the school than Blanks. Her ability as a basketball player and her impact on the women’s basketball program epitomizes why Malone selected the Pioneers as their mascot because Blanks truly was a pioneer of women’s intercollegiate basketball and women’s athletics. When she came to Malone, funding for women’s athletics was limited and there were limited athletic scholarships available for women. However, her play on the court would transcend women’s sports at Malone, changing the perceptions of many people on campus as to what these women were capable of achieving.
Blanks and Lewis were part of an eleven-person recruiting class. In her freshman season (1979-80), Blanks and her freshmen counterparts soared to a 19-4 record, elevating Long’s program to one of the nation’s elite. Long was shocked at how well Blanks and her teammates were received by the student body and local community.
“Many around Malone took note of what we were doing,” said Long. “It was so much fun. We had a strong following and there were many games where we packed Osborne Hall, particularly for postseason games and when we played the Polish National Team. If we didn’t win by a large margin, people would leave disappointed. We were well covered by the media, too. Even the newspapers and television stations from the Akron-Barberton area would come by to cover Gloria.”
Blanks would finish her four-year career as the greatest women’s basketball player in school history. She would leave as the all-time leading scorer, rebounder and shot blocker at Malone, registering 2,459 points, 1,257 rebounds and 591 blocked shots in four seasons – records that all still stand to this day. Her shot blocking prowess is what stuck out in Long’s mind because women weren’t supposed to be that intimidating of a presence.
Gloria had an amazing wingspan and great timing,” said Long. “I sometimes felt that officials would call phantom fouls on her because she was doing things on the court that they had never seen a woman do before. On a number of occasions, I would approach the officials and ask them if they thought it was possible for a woman to block a shot. They would say they thought that it was so I would tell them ‘that’s good because you are going to see it tonight’. Then, sure enough, Gloria would go out and do what she did and the referees stopped anticipating the foul calls.”
Over the course of her career, Blanks racked in the awards. She was named AIAW Division III Player of the Year in 1982, OAISW All-Tournament in 1980-82, Midwest All-Regional in 1981-82, All-State from 1981-83, All-NAIA District 22 in 1982-83 and was named AIAW All-American in 1982-83. Her team went 97-22 in that time including 30-3 in her senior year when they lost in the NAIA Regional Championship as one of the final eight remaining teams in the nation. In 1990, Blanks became the first woman at Malone inducted into the Malone Athletics Hall of Fame.
To this day, Long remains extremely appreciative of Title IX for allowing Blanks and her teammates the opportunity to accomplish such amazing things. She also knows that Blanks was a tremendous role model for Malone women’s student-athletes.
“Gloria and her teammates’ play confirmed the rightness of Title IX,” said Long. “She became a role model in the local community. She was a star athlete who other girls wanted to play with and younger girls wanted to grow up and be like. She also provided the school with important representation. Not only was she a female but she was one of our first female, African-American athletes. This diversity was something we so desired.”
You can tell just how special of a person Gloria Blanks (now Gloria Dingle) is by the light that gleams in Long’s eye when she talks about her, despite being 30 years removed from the program. Long raves about how she was an equally great basketball player and person, addressing characteristics like kind-heartedness, selflessness, determination, and a strong Christian faith as traits that stood out. One story Long shared about Blanks sticks out above all the rest.
“After the very last game of Gloria’s career, everybody was heart-broken because we just lost in the regional playoffs to Saginaw Valley State,” explained Long. “Gloria worked so hard that night and was the last person to get out of the van when we stopped for dinner. She came straight up to me and said, ‘Coach, I am really sorry we couldn’t win for you tonight.’ She wasn’t even disappointed for herself but for her team and her coach. That just speaks volumes about what a special person she was.”