Basketball success isn’t just about winning games, but about developing the person and pointing them toward success in life after the game.
According to Irvington girls’ head coach Gina Maher, that is the legacy of her program, which has won six state championships, five state Federation crowns, and 742 career victories, and has produced a plethora of college players.
“It is about teaching them to be able to stand up and handle situations,” Maher said during the Irvington Historical Society’s Dec. 6 Zoom webinar, “Women’s Rights Goes to the Hoops,” which attracted close to 300 viewers from across the country.
Maher, who will begin her 45th year as head coach of the Bulldogs — hopefully early next month — was joined on the panel by former players Kathy Behrens and B.J. Toolan Constantine, along with her former colleague at Irvington High School and assistant coach Carol Dyer.
The webinar covered the growth and success of the Irvington program from the implementation in 1972 of Title IX, which gave equal rights to female athletes in interscholastic and college sports, through today.
“Back in the 1970s,” Maher said, “we were still fighting for respect and recognition.”
The webinar was introduced by former Irvington High School Principal Scott Mosenthal and moderated by Behrens, who played four seasons for Maher, graduating in 1981. She then played four years of basketball at the University of Hartford.
“We went from not even having matching uniforms to where the girls today get the best treatment and opportunities to continue playing,” Behrens said.
Behrens serves as president of the Social Responsibility and Player Programs for the National Basketball Association. In that role, she oversees all NBA programs that coordinate league and player social responsibility efforts, promote youth basketball development, support player growth and education, and enhance the marketing opportunities for current and former players.
Constantine, a 1991 alumnus of Irvington, played four years at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., graduating in 1995. She is now a physical therapist in Irvington and has been Maher’s assistant the past 17 years.
“Over the years, Gina’s intent and focus has shifted to more about developing strong women and less about just basketball,” Constantine said.
Dyer, who was Maher’s assistant in the early years, recalled that the struggles in the 1970s made them more conscious of what they were doing and going through.
“I think everyone back then really appreciated the opportunity they were getting to play the game,” she said.
Maher credited the athletes for all the program achieved.
“I never dribbled a ball for Irvington or played defense or took a shot or ran the floor,” she said. “Everything that we accomplished was because of the hard work of the players.”
Maher continued, “I always use the expression to hold the rope: Who would you want to be next to you holding that rope and keeping it from falling. I have [built] a great network with that rope — so many players that have stayed [in Irvington] and had children who now play for me.”
Of all the assistants that Maher has employed — probably close to 100 — only two, Dyer and Donna Devaney, were not graduates of Irvington High School.
“She keeps it in the family,” Constantine said. “Gina is that one that has laid this foundation that has kept the success going.”
Mosenthal added, “You can say that the Irvington girls’ basketball program is the most successful program in the state.”
Maher’s teams won state crowns in 1990, 2010-2013, and 2019; and Federation titles in 1990, 2010, 2012-2013, and 2019.