Charlotte Lewis, who grew up in Peoria and grew into one of the first dominant women's college basketball players at Illinois State University, died Monday of a heart attack. She was 52.
Her former coach ar ISU, Jill Hutchison, remembers her first impressions of Charlotte Lewis.
"Charlotte was the kind of player that when the shot went up she would practically take it off the rim and in the process she would almost completely clear out a lane coming down with the ball. Opponents were so intimidated that it was like the parting of the Red Sea to get away from her."
Lewis was one of the first women who could dunk a basketball. Her raw talent would propel ISU to 63 victories and 4 AIAW state championships over the next 4 years. And the Woodruff High School product was a key member of the first U–S Women's Olympic team, which won a silver medal at the 1976 Games in Montreal.
"At the time the leading program in the world was the Russian women,' said Hutchison.. "They had a 7-foot playing who was dominating. Charlotte was a player who could compete with her for rebounds and could intimidate in the paint defensively."
What Lewis accomplished on the court was amazing, considering she didn't start playing organized basketball until she arrived at ISU.
Woodruff High School didn't have a girls' basketball team until after Lewis graduated. But she wanted to play. So, at Taft Homes, where she lived, Lewis would play in pick up games against men.
"There were no park programs. There were no programs at Carver Center. She didn’t have the opportunity unless she played pick up games with the guys in the neighborhood."
After 15 years playing professionally in Italy, Brazil and the United States, Lewis returned to ISU and completed her degree at age 40. She later founded an after school program for kids in Peoria.