A Scout's Honor
Feb. 14, 2009
The concept of success is one that has always been associated with sports, but often times, success can be measured by more than just numbers. Depending on the source, it can take on a different meaning depending on the situation. Teams can have success if they improve upon their record from the previous year, or an individual can achieve it if he or she reaches a self-initiated goal that was set. To measure the success of Tracey (Hall) Yarbrough, however, one needs only to take a glimpse into the annals of Ohio State women's basketball to truly capture the influence that she had on the sport.
Yarbrough arrived at Ohio State University in the fall of 1985 as a freshman excited to be a part of such a tradition-rich school. Having grown up in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, she knew the significance of the opportunity that she had in front of her.
"I didn't have the benefit of a lot of exposure coming out of high school, and back then women's basketball wasn't really talked about on a global level," remarked Yarbrough. "I wanted to make sure that I went to a place where my Mom and Dad could see me play because of how supportive they had always been, so that limited my radius in terms of schools. When I really looked at it, though, Ohio State was a member of the best conference in the country. In terms of the chance to play women's basketball against the best competition and the best athletes, I knew that this was the place for me."
Yarbrough played on some of the most successful teams in the history of Big Ten women's basketball. During her tenure in Columbus, the Buckeyes finished with an astonishing overall record of 102-20, with an even more impressive conference record of 67-5. In her first season at Ohio State, in which she was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year and second-team All-Big Ten, Yarbrough helped lead the Buckeyes to an undefeated conference mark of 18-0. It was the first time that feat had been accomplished in conference history. She followed up that impressive debut with Big Ten Player of the Year honors in 1986 and 1987. She also became the first woman in conference history to be named to multiple Kodak All-American teams, which she accomplished in 1987 and 1988.
More importantly, though, Yarbrough led the Buckeyes to an impressive three-consecutive Big Ten Championships from 1985-87, and reached the NCAA regional finals in both 1985 and '87. Even with all of that success, Yarbrough was able to stay focused through her own self-assessment.
"I continually did a scouting report on myself, trying to figure out what my own strengths and weaknesses were, which gave me the opportunity to work on those areas that I needed to address," she said. "I always came at it with the philosophy that I was better than someone out there, but someone was always better than me. That made me want to be fully prepared to face anyone, especially when you are going up against the best."
When she finished her career as a Buckeye, Yarbrough had the opportunity to play overseas for a short period of time, but ultimately decided to come back to the United States in order to pursue other opportunities in the working world. The timing of the opportunities to play overseas, the distance from home and the health of her body were all factors that contributed to her decision to stay at home, but in her mind, it is a decision that she does not regret.
"I knew that basketball wasn't everything that I wanted to do in life," stated Yarbrough. "It was nice for a short period of time, but when I decided to stop playing, it was because I felt that the timing wasn't right. Basketball had taken up almost half of my life up until that point, and I knew that I did not want to play forever. I had been fortunate that my body had held up during my career, but wasn't sure if I wanted to push it for another 10 years. It also came down to the fact that I wanted to get my career off the ground and enter the work force."
Yarbrough, who now has two children, has worked for 14 years at Progressive Insurance as a Client Supervisor in Ohio. She currently remains near the top of the individual leaders list in several categories at Ohio State, including first in career rebounds (1,115), third in career points (1,912) and third in career field goals made (807), among others. It is obvious from these distinctions that she produced a great level of success while donning the scarlet and gray, something that she has carried over to her new life in insurance.
"The skills I learned as a student-athlete have translated well to my current position," she commented. "In both basketball and my current job, you deal with many differing personalities and work ethics. You have to have a sense of balance in both areas, something that being a student-athlete definitely prepared me for. Even though I know that I am good at my job, there is always something that I can do to become better, something that was ingrained in me while playing the sport. Many times what you do is measured by a certain level of success, so when it comes down to it whether on the court or in the work place, it is about knowing what a goal is and ultimately producing results."
The sport of women's basketball has grown exponentially since the time when Yarbrough owned the court. Her impact, especially on Ohio State and the Big Ten, is certainly not lost on anyone close to the game. As a result, her university will honor her by retiring her #44 jersey to the rafters of Value City Arena on February 15, 2009 when the current Buckeyes take on Northwestern. It is only the second jersey to be retired by the women's basketball program, the first being Katie Smith's #30. That honor, coupled with her influence as a former African-American student-athlete, hits home to Yarbrough.
"It is truly an honor and quite a surprise to tell you the truth," she acknowledged. "It is nice to know even after the years go by that I could still be recognized for something like Black History month. When someone, in this case Ohio State, thinks about you either in the moment or some 20 years later, it really means a lot. It is touching to know that you aren't just a part of the OSU family for the years 1985-88, but rather for a lifetime."