Trudi Lacey has talked about it more than once.

“It took a village to raise me,” she often says.

Saturday morning, that village honored the 60-year-old.

Lacey was named Clifton Forge’s first “Hometown Hero” in a ceremony held on the courthouse steps on what the town mayor Jeff Irvine declared, “Trudi Lacey Day.”

Lacey has done it all when it comes to women’s basketball and now serves as the athletic director at Johnson and Wales University in Charlotte.

She has also authored a pair of books, is a certified leadership coach and speaker and the president and CEO of Lacey & Co., LLC, where she develops leadership programs for businesses, teams and youth.

But Saturday morning, Lacey was back home with her family, friends and Clifton Forge brothers and sisters.

“I just have to pause and take it all in,” Lacey told the gathering. “I am very proud to be from Clifton Forge. It’s such an honor to be here. I’m so humbled and grateful for all of those who had this vision for this day. I’m so very appreciative, very happy to see all of you.

“I’m going to try not to get emotional — it is emotional to come back, to see everybody and to revisit the journey,” she continued. “I think to myself,

‘Where did the time go’?”

It was over 40 years ago when Lacey helped lead the Clifton Forge High School Mountaineers to back-to-back state girls basketball runner-up finishes.

But it started long before that, said Donnie Buzzard a teacher and coach back at CFHS in the 70’s.

“During football practice, I guess it was ‘72 or ‘73, some of the guys — a William Brown and a Gilbert Davis — came to us and said, ‘Coach, you need to go to the playground and see this girl playing.’ Trudi Lacey they said. A couple of coaches go over to watch and there was this tall skinny girl with big hair playing with the boys. She was schooling them, as what, a sixth or seventh grader?”

It was the beginning of a basketball legend.

Lacey became the first African-American woman to receive a four-year scholarship to the women’s basketball program at North Carolina State University and helped legendary Wolfpack coach Kay Yow to the school’s first ever Atlantic Coast Conference women’s basketball title in 1979.

She scored 1,957 points and pulled in 1,051 rebounds in her college career, one of just three in Wolfpack history to top 1,000 in both categories.

Lacey twice represented the United States at the World University Games, helping bring home the gold medal from Romania in 1981 and a silver from Canada in 1983.

After playing professionally overseas, she came back to the United States where she began her brilliant coaching career.

She coached collegiately at Francis Marion, South Florida, Maryland and Johnson and Wales, before transitioning to the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA).

Lacey was an assistant coach and then the head coach of the Charlotte Sting and then served dual roles for the Washington Mystics as the head coach and general manager.

“I remember one day talking to a friend of mine,” said Marlene Chapman, an assistant coach at Clifton Forge. “He reminded me that Trudi was just so good that if she had been just a little bit younger, she would played in the WNBA.”

This past spring, Lacey, already a member of the Clifton Forge High School Hall of Fame, was named to the N.C. State Athletic Hall of Fame.
Clifton Forge Vice Mayor Pam Marshall served as the Master of Ceremonies at Saturday’s event.

“This is what I hope will be Clifton Forge’s inaugural ‘Hometown Hero’ celebration,” Marshall said. “We like to take some time whenever we can to honor those in and from Clifton Forge that have become successful in their chosen careers, proving that this is the little town that can, and does.”
Irvine read the proclamation declaring August 10, 2019 as Trudi Lacey Day and Lacey was also given the key to the town.

“I do appreciate everybody remembering the accomplishments,” Lacey said. “But what we do know is that nothing great is ever accomplished alone. I’ve had so much support along the way. For all those people that said, I’m going to tell (her mom) Ethel Mae on you, that worked.”

Lacey reflected on her journey.

“I am sure there were people that thought I was a little crazy,” she said. “A little girl from a small town who had a dream of traveling the world to play basketball. But you know what the Nike commercial says — It’s crazy until you do it. So be as crazy as you want to be. I actually did it. It actually happened, which is truly amazing.

“We all have doubters,” Lacey added. “We all have people that doubt us, perhaps tell us that we’re not good enough, we’re not smart enough. But I came by here today to tell you that doubters are a gift. Because they will drive you to greatness. Greatness is not just for the chosen few, it’s for everyone. Remember to be great. You get to define what greatness is for you. Believe in love, live by faith and remember to be great.”

What’s the next bit of greatness on the horizon for Trudi Lacey?

It’s a trip to West Africa to teach basketball and life skills.

What started on the playground in Clifton Forge continues next week halfway around the world.

Trudi Lacey — “Hometown Hero.”

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Trudi Lacey was honored Saturday as a Clifton Forge “Hometown Hero.” Lacey greets George Kostel, right, of Clifton Forge prior to the ceremony. Looking on is George’s wife, Helen. (Gavin Dressler Photos)