Holding Court

When “big girl” talks, little girls listen.

So it was last summer in AIC’s Butova Gym, where six-foot-seven Kara Wolters—a champion at the college, Olympic, and professional levels—conducted a “Dream Big” basketball camp for youngsters in the fourth grade to tenth grade age group.

Wolters’s camp staff consisted of current University of Connecticut women’s basketball players Crystal Dangerfield, Olivia Nelson-Ododa, and Kyla Irwin. Kara has had close ties to UConn since 1995, when she played with Jen Rizzotti and Southwick’s Rebecca Lobo on a team that went 35-0 and gave coach Geno Auriemma the first of his eleven Division I national championships. Over Wolters’s four-year career, UConn went 132-8, and she set records for rebounds (1,286) and blocked shots (396) that still stand. Wolters also has the distinction of being the tallest player in UConn women’s hoop history.

Having her on campus was a fitting tie-in to the fiftieth anniversary of a 1968-69 AIC men’s team that reached the national finals of small college basketball with her uncle, Rudy Wolters ’69, in the lineup. The 1969 team was honored as part of a basketball reunion during AIC’s Hall of Fame Induction Weekend (October 4-5, 2019).

“I never got to see my uncle play, but it was kind of cool to bring my camp to his alma mater, especially in the fiftieth anniversary year for his team. We had a great week at AIC. The facility is phenomenal, and everyone we met at the college was so welcoming,” Wolters said.

In her uncle Rudy’s senior season of 1968-69, the Yellow Jackets went 21-4. They beat Assumption and Springfield College to reign as New England regional champions, thus earning a berth in the small college nationals in Evansville, Indiana. There, they beat San Francisco State 80-75 to reach the semifinals against Kentucky Wesleyan. In an overtime heartbreaker, AIC suffered an 83-82 loss.

Rudy Wolters’s 1969 teammates included Bob Rutherford, who was inducted into the AIC Athletic Hall of Fame as part of its Class of 2019. Other members of the ’69 team: Greg Hill, Curtis Mitchell, Al Carter, Alan Bush, Jim White, Cisco Maloney, Charles “Sonny” Hansley, Tom Doyle, Allen Jackson, and Forrest Bateman.

#31 Rudy Wolters ’69, pictured in the 1968-69 small college national semifinals in Evansville, Indiana, against Kentucky Wesleyan. AIC bested a number of noteworthy rivals that season, including Assumption College, Springfield College, and San Francisco State University. Photo credit, The Taper 1969.

Kara comes from a basketball family. Her father Willie Wolters, a West German immigrant, played at Boston College for coach Bob Cousy and became team captain in 1967. He later played pro ball in Italy and, briefly, in the NBA with the Seattle Supersonics. Kara’s mother, Liz, once scored 50 points in a game at Wellesley High, more than any Massachusetts high school player before her.

Her older sister, Kristen, played at the University of Rhode Island, and her older brother, Ray, played at Eastern Connecticut State University. She also had a sister, Katie, who died of a brain tumor in 2004. In 1998, when her sister was battling the effects of the tumor, Kara formed the Kara Kares Foundation, which supports brain tumor research.

Kara was tall for her age even in the lower grades. Her family affectionately referred to her as “Big Girl,” a moniker that has stayed with her to this day.

Wolters went on to play in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), winning a championship with the Houston Comets in 1999. Then, a year later, she helped Team USA win basketball gold in the Olympic Games. She thus became one of twelve players to win NCAA, WNBA, and Olympic titles. That list includes five other UConn players: Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Swin Cash, Maya Moore, and Breanna Stewart.

“I just love working with young people,” she said. “We had a lot of kids at our AIC camp, and it worked out really well. We offer on-court drills and off-court skills to not only make you a better basketball player, but help develop confidence, character, and self-esteem.”

Today, she works as an in-studio analyst for the UConn women’s basketball games on Sports New York Television (SNY). She is also a motivational speaker and a coach to young players in the Connecticut Travel and AAU programs, which gives her a chance to mentor her daughters, Sydney and Delaney. Kara lives in Somers, Connecticut, with her husband, Sean Drinan, whom she married in 2004.

That’s “Big Girl”—still a force in basketball and a role model to young girls as they seek to fulfill their hoop dreams.

 

By Garry Brown ’55, Hon ’14