Black History Month Spotlight: Cathy Grimes-Miller
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of the four articles in VirginiaSports.com’s Black History Month series for 2022. The others are on Tommy Smith, Paulette Jones Morant and Keith Witherspoon.
By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE – She will forever rank among the greatest players in the history of University of Virginia women’s basketball, and she was the first player from that program to have her number retired. But Cathy Grimes-Miller’s accomplishments extend far beyond the basketball court.
She went by Cathy Grimes when she arrived on Grounds in 1981, a few months after graduating from T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria. By the time she left seven years later, she had earned a bachelor’s degree in English from the College of Arts & Sciences, where she minored in Spanish, and a Juris Doctor degree from the School of Law. And she did all that at a time when African-Americans were a tiny minority of the undergraduate and graduate student bodies at UVA.
“I enjoyed the experience,” Grimes-Miller, an attorney who works for the U.S. Department of Education, said in a recent Zoom interview, “but it was an experience, I will tell you that.”
At T.C Williams, she’d been a part of a much more racially diverse student body than the one she joined at UVA. Grimes-Miller, who was born and raised in Alexandria, wasn’t the only Black player on the Virginia women’s basketball team, then coached by Debbie Ryan, but she believes she was the first one who “was really from the inner city, from an environment where I didn’t have the resources that might have been available to some of the other students, other players who may have come from two-parent households or who may have grown up in more of a suburban area and been exposed to a little bit more in terms of athletic or educational opportunities.”
Even so, she’d received an excellent education at T.C. Williams, Grimes-Miller said, and “I was just very disciplined and very focused. I knew what I wanted. And in my community, when people see that you’re working hard, that you’re a good person, that you’re trying to accomplish great things, you find that you have a lot of support.”
At T.C. Williams, Grimes-Miller played for head coach Ralph McGirk, who died last month.
“From day one, Coach McGirk believed in me and, along with my mother, was my biggest fan, advocate and supporter,” Grimes-Miller said.
McGirk, who was white, “ironically gave me some of the best advice I have ever received about being a Black athlete in America,” Grimes-Miller said. “At the end of the first day of tryouts after Coach McGirk was hired, he pulled me to the side, asked me about myself and my grades, and told me that I had a bright future ahead of me. He also told me that I would be doing many media interviews and that it was important for me to present myself well and to show that I was intelligent and articulate in order to knock down the false stereotype of the ‘black dumb jock.’ I never forgot that advice and live by it to this day.”
Before she enrolled at UVA, Grimes-Miller said, basketball had afforded her “the opportunity to travel and be exposed to a lot of different environments and communities. A lot of my friends who I played with and who I competed against lived in the surrounding area of Fairfax County and attended predominantly white schools. So I wouldn’t call it culture shock [at UVA], but it was very different. I think that because I was on the women’s basketball team, I was somewhat insulated from some of the larger issues that a Black student who was not part of a group coming in might have been exposed to, or I didn’t face a lot of the same challenges because I already had a built-in support system. A lot of my [older] teammates kind of took us under their wings and guided us and supported us and showed us the ropes.”