Donna Lopiano headlines Dr. M. Dianne Murphy Leaders for Life Program

Donna Lopiano headlines Dr. M. Dianne Murphy Leaders for Life Program

By Erin Bean, TTU Sports Information

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. -- In college athletics, there are names simply synonymous with success. In football, the greats include Bear Bryant and Woody Hayes and in men’s basketball, Jim Valvano, John Wooden and Mike Krzyzewski have become institutions of the sport. There are debates on the web, television, and in backyards across America arguing who left a greater impact on the sport.

The common thread that holds them together is the success of their university’s male athletics programs. In recent years, whispers of Pat Summit, Geno Auriemma, and Russ Rose have crept into the fold, after making their respective programs some of the best in the country, but on a different level. The latter three names are some of the most successful coaches in women’s athletics. They have taken their teams to the national stage, and thanks to Title IX, will remain there for years to come.

There’s another name that few mention. The young girls who are now allowed to play Little League baseball may never even hear her name, but owe every opportunity to her. The name is Donna Lopiano.

On Monday night, Dr. Donna Lopiano was the distinguished speaker at Tennessee Tech’s Dr. M. Dianne Murphy Leaders for Life Program. Lopiano has been named as “one of the 10 most powerful women in sports” and addressed Tech’s female student-athletes about her experiences as a woman in sport.

With plenty of stories to tell, Lopiano began with her lifelong dream: to pitch for the New York Yankees. She recalled throwing a baseball against a wall every day for hours as a young girl and when the time came to try out for Little League, Lopiano impressed the organization and went as the first draft pick. When the time came to choose her uniform, Lopiano saw a good omen in the team’s jerseys, as they were dark Yankee blue with pinstripe accents. Just as she was about to take her turn, a parent with a Little League rulebook appeared and pointed out a ruling: “No Girls Allowed.” Lopiano never got her chance to don the Yankee pinstripes, but she never let that hold her back from fighting for young girls across the country.

Lopiano’s speech carried one message: Pay it Forward. As female student-athletes, everyone in the room owes it to other women to be leaders of change.  She encouraged the women to follow their moral compass, help others, be agents of change, build an army and practice the illusion of confidence.

Following your moral compass may not be the easiest path to pursue, but being brave enough to say something when you see wrong helps bring change. Lopiano spoke to the idea that being silent allows people to believe the wrong is right.

Lopiano told the student-athletes that her favorite audience to speak to was young boys. They always speak without a filter, she explained, and they innocently state that boys are just better athletes. Her counter is always to ask, who is the better boxer, heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali or lightweight Sugar Ray Robinson? Comparing the two is near impossible, much like comparing male versus female athletes. By telling girls they can, we help them to pursue their dreams. Every girl deserves encouragement.

To be agents of change, one must play heavyweight ball and be persistent. The key to playing heavyweight ball is not to be opinionated but to be specific with facts. As in athlete, the Golden Eagles find themselves in a position of power. Title IX is the perfect example of being persistent.

Lopiano encouraged the girls to build an army of support.  To be proponents of change, they don’t have to do it alone. As athletes, they have a team behind them, helping them with support and networking.

The final word of advice was to practice the illusion of confidence. As athletes, people want to listen. Even the greatest players in the world get nervous stepping to the foul line with the game on the line, but they don’t appear it. Lopiano was told on one of her many National Championship teams “on this team, we never make anything look hard, because then we let people think we’re lucky.” You’re playing a role and that’s what leaders do, she told them.

Lopiano ended her many stories with one final statement. A six-year old girl told Lopiano that she ran the 800-meter dash, the most grueling race in high school track. The reason? Nobody told her she couldn’t run, she had a group of people telling her she could.

Watch a video of Lopiano's presentation: