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By | June 11, 2024

Archdeacon: ‘I want to use my story and help others’

Dayton, Ohio

As she talked about her journey, which has taken her from Queens, N.Y., through some very traumatic situations as a young girl and finally up the rungs of the coaching ladder — from guiding grade school teams to AAU, high school, junior college, college and even working with pros — Rachel Naughton, the new Wilberforce University women’s basketball coach, said she wanted to share her whole story:

“I want to be able to use my story and help others. If God uses me as a vessel, so be it.”

And Naughton, who takes over her new job this month, has quite a story to tell:

  • She’s garnered high praise from Wilberforce athletic director John Hill who said she was chosen from a pool of 30 candidates for the job.
  • She has a significant educational resume that includes an undergrad degree with an emphasis on political science and pre law from Saint Paul’s College in Virginia; acceptance into the minority program of the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State; and master’s degree in sports management from VCU.
  • At 47, she’s already the proud grandmother of an effervescent three-year-old boy.
  • She’s the author of two books: “My Little Tomboy: Little Girls Play Sports Too” and “Embracing Veganisn: The Complete Guide to Everything You Need to Know to Go Vegan.”

And while all that is notable, what’s most impressive is how she was able to endure and overcome those early traumas to accomplish all this.

“I dealt with a lot of challenges when I was young,” she said. “I kind of skipped childhood and became an adult at a very early age in a sense.

“I dealt with child sexual abuse. My godfather was the predator. I didn’t tell my family what happened or anything. Back then I thought I was protecting them by not telling my story. But it was tough, and, in the end, it affected me.”

The one person she eventually did confide in was her boyfriend at the time, a boxer, who was four years older than her. She said he “kind of scared off” (her abuser):

“He was like my protector because no one else was able to protect me. And because of it, I gravitated to him.

“I looked at the world differently and when I was around 12, I figured I needed to get away. I kind of raised myself in a sense. I didn’t know what that meant or what I needed to do. In my mind, I thought I needed to be a mother , to have a child, and separate myself from my family.”

At 15, she was pregnant by her boyfriend and at 16 she had her son.

While either of her ordeals — let alone both — could have derailed her life and future dreams, she found a path forward. She said she wasn’t going to let dark times define her:

“I’ve never been one to hold onto anything negative.

“I didn’t really know what I was going to do except that I knew I was going to raise my child and that, no matter what, school was going to remain my priority and I was going to keep playing basketball.”

She was able to do so, she said, because of family backing:

“My mother was a strong support figure and my sister, who’s much older than me, was very hands on. Thanks to them I was able to go to school and not worry about day-care or huge financial issues.

“God blessed me, even through high school.”

But as a teen mom coming from a family of 10 kids, she needed help if she wanted to fulfill her dream of a college education.

And she said that’s where basketball came in:

“I was going to use it as my tool.”

When she got no initial scholarship offers, she took matters into her own hands: “I worked out and worked out and worked out. I went to different college showcases and played in unsigned senior events. Finally, I was able to go the junior college route.”

She played at Borough of Manhattan Community College — whose alums include Cardi B, Queen Latifah, Gabourney Sidibe and Michael K. Williams — and from there was recruited by Saint Paul’s College.

The right time for Ohio

As a teenager, Naughton said her initial college dreams focused on Cornell University, not a small HBCU in Lawrenceville, Va. After growing up in Queens, she said Saint Paul’s was quite an adjustment.

“Talk about out in the cornfields and sticks,” she chuckled. “It was a really small town — a real culture shock for me — and I loved it.

“I fell in love with the non-city life. There were fewer distractions.

“Going to school in (New York City), it would take me two hours just to go to and from my classes. On the way, I might stop off to look at a pair of sneakers or just hang out. But by the time I got to Saint Paul’s, I’d done all that and needed something else.

“I loved the resources at Saint Paul’s. I loved the programs there. And the people. I loved everything Saint Paul’s provided for me as a single mother.

“I hadn’t known anything about HBCUs, but I got to appreciate everything they offer: the cultural identity and pride; a strong connection to their historical significance; the opportunities they offer a lot of students who otherwise would be overlooked; and especially the educational excellence you get in a small setting with people who really care about you. There’s a family feel at an HBCU.”


And that may be why she didn’t accept the minority law program offer at Ohio State.

“When I got accepted (at OSU), for some reason, I just didn’t feel confident enough to go,” she said. “I didn’t have the support there. All my family was back in New York. I didn’t know how I was going to survive.

“They’d told me I wouldn’t be able to work a job there — the classwork would be too much — but I was like, ‘How am I going to support my son?’”

Finally, she decided to go to VCU, just 70 miles north of Lawrenceville.

After that she launched a coaching career that included guiding the grade school team of her son Tariq. She went on to coach boys and girls high school teams in Delaware, was an assistant coach at Saint Paul’s, coached the Georgia Gwizzlies in the American Basketball Association (ABA), ran men’s tournaments in New York City; and most recently coached at Baltimore City Community College.

She said now, the second time around, Ohio looks great to her:

“Wilberforce reminds me a lot of Saint Paul’s.”

‘I’m open to it’

When Naughton and I spoke a while back, a respected Wilberforce public relations person overheard the details of her teen traumas and afterward — in a sincere effort to protect the privacy of the new coach — questioned her if she was sure she wanted to go public with some of the things she endured along the way.

“It’s OK,” Naughton insisted. “If some of it helps someone else or, if they want to come to me about it, I’m open to it.”

She reiterated that thought when I checked back with her a second time several days later.

She said she hopes her story gives others hope and strength and guidance and the realization you can succeed even against the toughest of odds.

As for her new basketball job, she met some of the returning Wilberforce players on her first visit to campus two months ago and believes: “They want someone to lead them. Someone they can look up to, someone who will make them better.”

While she’s looking forward to reviving hoop fortunes at Wilberforce, the one down side was moving away from her beloved grandson Tariq Jr., who lives five minutes away from her:

“I see him three or four times a week. When he has his Saturday morning swim classes, I’m there.”

She said he’s a delightful youngster, who is bilingual (he also speaks Spanish) and loves coming to his “Ooh-ma’s” house.

Naughton will be Wilberforce’s third head coach in three years. The Bulldogs went 2-21 last season and 4-24 the year before.

Coming into this school year, Wilberforce has made a real commitment to women’s sports. Naughton is the third women’s coach hired in the past few months. Meagan Moran will coach the newly formed soccer team and Jasmine Coleman was hired to coach the new volleyball team.

There’s a resurgence going on at Wilberfoce, which is the nation’s oldest private HBCU owned and operated by African Americans.

Along with a new president (Dr. Vann Newkirk), new AD (Hill) and other new administrators, enrollment was up 30 percent last year said Steve Miller, the new Vice President of Institutional Advancement and a Wilberforce alum. He said another enrollment surge is expected this fall.

The school is in the process of erecting a 10-dormitory complex featuring prefabricated residence halls.

“I see a lot of good things happening here,” Naughton said. “They’re building new things, and some other areas can be brightened, sometimes with nothing more than a new coat of paint.

“But to me, the university already is glowing. There are so many good people here and they are the ones who truly light up any area.”

And no one is shining any brighter than Naughton who proved long ago, dark times would not define her.

Media Contact: Lena Arnold
Phone: 937-508-5532

About Wilberforce University: 

Wilberforce University is the nation’s oldest private, historically black University owned and operated by African Americans. Its roots trace back to its founding in 1856, a period of American history marred by the physical bondage of people of African descent. It was also a period when the education of African Americans was not only socially prohibited but was illegal. There was nothing about the prevailing social and cultural ethos of the era that suggested that African Americans might or should be taught or could learn. Yet a powerful idea assumed life and Wilberforce University was born. The founding of Wilberforce University represented a bold, audacious, and visionary example of what could happen when men and women of goodwill transcended race and the prevailing social and cultural constructs and norms to pursue a noble purpose. Today Wilberforce University offers 25 academic programs to students of promise from marginalized communities. Learn more at


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