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Longtime Lady Lions Coach Rene Portland Dies Of Cancer

Rene Portland, who brought Penn State women’s basketball to national prominence during her 27-year coaching tenure, passed away Sunday at age 65 after battling cancer for three years. 

Portland coached the Lady Lions from 1980 to 2007, recording a 606-236 record to become the ninth coach in NCAA Division I history to record 600 wins at one school. She’s the sixth winningest Division I coach of all time, a four-time Big Ten Coach of the Year, and a two-time WBCA National Coach of the Year.

Before beginning her coaching career, Portland won three national championships as a player with Immaculata College. She then spent two years each as head coach at Saint Joseph’s and Colorado before she was hired at Penn State.

Penn State women’s basketball earned seven conference championships, eight conference tournament titles, and numerous NCAA tournament appearances in the Atlantic 10 and Big Ten conferences with Portland at the helm.

Despite her many accolades on the court, Portland will be remembered for her alleged “no lesbian” team policy, which was the subject of a lawsuit from a former player filed against Portland and the university in 2005. An internal investigation at the time led to a fine and a one-game suspension for Portland, though she disputed the findings.

Portland resigned a few weeks after the lawsuit was settled in 2007. She had two years left on her contract with Penn State.

Many of those Portland worked with over the years still remember her fondly, including a handful of former players and colleagues who spoke to Philly.com.

“She taught us to play for something bigger than ourselves,” former first-team all-American Susan Robinson Fruchtl said. “She taught us to play for each other, to represent those who have impacted our lives, and to play for Penn State.”

Portland is survived by her husband, four children, and seven grandchildren. Funeral arrangements will be held in Broomall, PA.

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About the Author

Elissa Hill

Elissa was the managing editor of Onward State from 2017-2019. She is from Punxsutawney, PA [insert corny Bill Murray joke here] and considers herself an expert on all things ice cream. Follow her on Twitter (@ElissaKHill) for more corny jokes.

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