The Love of Sport

Athletics Director Blake James (far right) and Deputy Director Jenn Strawley (far left) stand with women student-athletes honored at Sunday's luncheon.

By Peter E. Howard

Athletics Director Blake James (far right) and Deputy Director Jenn Strawley (far left) stand with women student-athletes honored at Sunday's luncheon.

The Love of Sport

By Peter E. Howard
Inauguration Week shifted into gear Sunday with a lunch celebration honoring women’s athletics.

Alexis Wright stood at the podium under the bright lights, but probably would have preferred to be in the starting blocks at one of her track meets.

With a broad shy smile, she admitted to being both “really nervous” and honored to be chosen to speak at Sunday’s Celebration of Women’s Athletics luncheon at the BankUnited Center Fieldhouse.

Alexis WrightThen the senior track and field star from Tampa told the more than 200 people what it has meant to her to be a student-athlete at the University of Miami.

How she has been able to volunteer to help people in the community. How she has been able to major in microbiology and prepare for medical school. How she has been able to be involved in leadership programs, and help people care for themselves.

“Athletics has given me a platform, given me a chance to see myself in a whole new light,” Wright told the crowd. “Women’s athletics has personally transformed my life.”

The luncheon – attended by men and women, athletes and non-athletes, old and young – kicked off a week of events honoring UM President Julio Frenk, whose inauguration as the sixth president of the University will take place at 2 p.m. Friday at the BankUnited Center. The luncheon was followed by the women’s basketball game against Florida State University.

View complete Inauguration 2016 information.

View complete coverage of women’s basketball’s game against FSU.

Frenk talked about how his own life has been impacted by “truly confident women,” including his twin sister, mother, wife, two daughters, and a grandmother who lived to age 106.

Frenk said he wanted to start off Inauguration Week celebrating athletics and specifically women’s athletics. Student-athletes, he said, learn life lessons in teamwork, handling adversity, and balancing busy schedules. And athletics, he said, is a crucial part of the fabric of the University and helps unite everyone.

“We are truly one U, and all of you here today are helping to make those bonds even stronger,” Frenk said.

The University of Miami was the first in the nation to award collegiate athletic scholarships to women, which occurred in 1973, just a year after the passage of Title IX – the federal law that leveled the playing field for men and women involved in educational programs and activities that receive federal funding.

Stuart A. Miller, chair of the University’s Board of Trustees, said athletics ignites “the spirit of competition that permeates” everywhere and everything that occurs at a university.

The luncheon included the presentation of student-athlete awards to 10 women representing each of the University’s women’s sports. They were: Adrienne Motley, basketball; Kara McCormack, diving; Daniela Darquea, golf; Sarah Aschebrock, rowing; Catalina Perez, soccer; My Fridell, swimming; Stephanie Wagner, tennis; Tiffany Okieme, track and field; Alexis Wright, track; and Kalysta White, volleyball.

Throughout the event, a slideshow played on big screens on either side of the podium, featuring pictures of accomplished women student-athletes, and team pictures of some of the national championship teams.

Sunday’s event began with welcome remarks from Hilarie Bass, vice chair of the University’s Board of Trustees, who founded the Celebration of Women’s Athletics event with fellow trustees, Barbara Hecht Havenick and Laurie Silvers last year. 

Katie Meier, longtime head women’s basketball coach who recently recorded her 200th career win at UM, said it is only at the U where every coach for the men’s teams would attend a luncheon celebrating women’s athletics. And it’s only at the U, she said, where a presidential inauguration kick off celebration would include attending a women’s basketball game.

“I love it! I love it,” she told the gathering. “A confident woman can change the world. We are changing lives.”