More than a quarter century after her retirement from coaching basketball at Cal Poly Pomona, Darlene May’s legacy is only growing stronger.
Despite being forced form the bench in 1994 after a terminal cancer diagnosis, she remains the winningest coach in the history of NCAA Division II women’s basketball. May died two years later with a resume that landed her in the Women’s Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame.
In 20 seasons at CPP, her teams compiled 519 wins opposite 119 losses and collected three national championships. May’s Broncos won 199 of their 207 conference games over that span, an astounding winning percentage of 96.
Her trio of championships, in 1982, 1985, and 1986, were the only national titles for one of the country’s best Division II programs until CPP’s women’s basketball team won back-to-back national championships in 2001 and 2002.
Coaching was just one of the areas where May excelled. She was the first woman to referee in the Olympics, doing so at the 1984 games.
Violet Palmer, a mentee of May who played on two of her NCAA championship teams, became the first female referee in NBA history. She made her NBA debut in 1997, went on to work NBA postseason games and open doors for other female referees to work at the highest level of basketball. Palmer, who retired in 2016, routinely credits May for playing a pivotal role in her success.
May’s list of accolades was lengthy. She was awarded two Women’s Basketball Coaches Association National Coach of the Year awards as well as CCAA Coach of the Year five times. She was also inducted into the Women’s Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame in June 1999.
May is honored through the gym on the CPP campus named in her honor. The Darlene May Memorial Scholarship is another way athletes at Cal Poly Pomona are reminded of her legacy. Each fall, one player is awarded the $1,000 scholarship.