Everyone knows Rebecca Lobo as an Olympic champion, WNBA standout and consensus 1995 National Player of the Year after she led the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team to a 35-0 record that season.
But did you know she’s jogged with Bill Clinton, declined the opportunity to take a picture on the president’s toilet in Air Force One and sat on every available chair in the White House when invited to a Christmas dinner?
You would have, had you attended Binghamton University’s 10th annual Celebrating Women’s Athletics Luncheon at the Events Center on Monday. The event, which boasted Lobo as its featured speaker, drew a record-setting attendance this year with over 550 attendees. Since its inception in 2006, the luncheon has also raised over $250,000 for its Binghamton Bearcats Athletics Association Women’s Scholarship Fund, established in 2007 and awarded to two female student-athletes annually.
Lobo intended her speech to expose how crucial her mother — the strongest woman she’s met — was in her achievements. By that, the two-time All-American didn’t mean her basketball achievements, which led to her job as an ESPN analyst that she holds today; she meant the “really cool experiences and opportunities” such as her trips to the White House.
“My theme is that I was fortunate to be raised by a really strong woman, a really strong-willed woman, who let me understand that I could be whatever I wanted to be through sports, who encouraged me to dream,” Lobo said to the media before the event. “The bigger idea is, it’s OK to dream and go for that, because you never know what doors may open, and you never know what opportunities may be there, and to never think that you’re limited because of your gender.”
For current student-athletes and the younger generations, that idea seems nearly self-evident. The opportunities for women in athletics are plentiful, programs are respected and women’s sports garner respectable airtime as well as media coverage.
But it wasn’t so for Lobo when she was growing up, and even she was fortunate, being a Title IX baby.
“People playing college basketball now, their entire life there’s been a WNBA,” said Lobo, who became one of the first members of the WNBA when she was assigned to the New York Liberty in the association’s first season in 1997. “They didn’t grow up without understanding that there were those opportunities. So I’m just hoping that the generation now and the generation coming up understands how lucky they are, and that it’s not a birthright. You have to take advantage of these opportunities, take care of these opportunities that you’ve been given and always treat it the right way.”
That’s part of the goal of the CWA Luncheon: to celebrate, recognize and support women’s athletics and all the strides made in the strikingly recent past. With past speakers such as softball pitching standout Jennie Finch and WNBA legend Kara Lawson, Binghamton’s event has grown from a small affair in 2006 to the large-scale event it was Monday, drawing considerable community involvement and sponsorship.
The event opened with remarks from Brad Manchester, the BBAA board vice president, who introduced in turn Binghamton University President Harvey Stenger, Director of Athletics Patrick Elliott and America East Conference Commissioner Amy Huchthausen. The three commented on the commitment of the University not only to athletics but academics, fitting for an event that fundraises scholarships for its female student-athletes.
Huchthausen, the first woman to serve as commissioner of the America East, remarked on the special significance of the event being held at Binghamton. Binghamton hosted the conference’s women’s basketball and women’s tennis championships this year, with the latter held this past weekend.
The CWA Luncheon has also featured a student-athlete speaker since 2007, and this year, that honor was bestowed upon redshirt senior Alexis Murray, a track and field standout. At the 2013 AE outdoor championships, Murray led her team in scoring after finishing second in both the triple jump and long jump as well as third in the javelin.
The luncheon, originally scheduled for Feb. 2, was postponed to April 27 due to inclement weather. Despite the change of plans, nearly every seat at the Events Center was filled.
After the luncheon, Lobo met with Binghamton’s women’s basketball team. Head coach Linda Cimino confessed that she might have been more excited to meet the superstar than her players.
“She was one of my idols growing up,” Cimino said. “I’m probably more excited than the kids are to be here with her.”