By Jennifer Overman
With all that AWSM does and represents, the highlight each year is our convention, which brings together members from all over the country. For many, it’s a time to renew friendships, recharge our batteries, and of course, make new memories. The conventions have provided inspiration, validation from peers, support from friends, and more than a few challenges.
Pictured above: Front row (L to R): Ann Miller, Tracy Dodds, Susan Fornoff, Michele Himmelberg. Back row (L to R): Mary Schmitt Boyer, Julie Cart, Christine Brennan at the 1993 convention.
For me, I discovered my sports career because I went to college with a then-AWSM intern and at my first convention in Toronto, I met lifelong friends such as Lydia Craver and Kathy Laughlin. In no small part due to Kathy Kudravi’s persistence over the years, I found my way to ESPN, coming full circle to work with Toronto’s Pioneer winner Claire Smith. Like so many people, every aspect of my career is touched by AWSM and the memories are endless.
Here is a look at how some of our members recall their favorite convention memories, as we prepare to honor 25 years of AWSM:
Rachel Bachman, Wall Street Journal
I was still in school, writing for my college daily, when I heard about the AWSM convention in my hometown of Minneapolis (1993). On short notice I decided to go to it, and my life was changed forever. I witnessed firsthand the courage of Lisa Olson and met other giants in the industry like Christine Brennan and Julie Cart — they even gave me their business cards! Hearing these women’s stories emboldened me to keep reporting and, eventually, make sports writing my career. I’m forever in AWSM’s debt.
Mary Schmitt Boyer, Cleveland Plain-Dealer
Two of my favorite memories came from the first convention in Oakland, Calif., in 1988. One was Michele Himmelberg nursing her baby during a session. I just thought that told so much about who we were and what we were about and why we had different challenges than male sportswriters. The second was the mention of finding our ‘island of peace’ during a session on relaxation. We all giggled at the time but, of course, the Island of Peace became synonymous with our hospitality suite and the place where the REAL business at a convention gets done. Another memory is of our real pioneer, Mary Garber, speaking to our convention in Minneapolis (1993). It was evening, at a candlelit dinner, and I just remember the actual glow that enveloped the room — and the organization — during her speech. I’ll never forget it.
Cathy Breitenbucher, Freelance
Mary Garber’s speech at the 1993 convention in Minneapolis. The candlelight and the stories she told so beautifully made for a magical evening. On the lighter side, I remember an incident at the 1999 St. Louis convention when we were at a Cardinals game in steamy (old) Busch Stadium. Each time the scoreboard temperature display went down by a degree, we let out a cheer.
Rachel Cohen, Associated Press
I attended my first convention as an AWSM intern (St. Louis, 1999), and it turned a vague impression that I could write sports as a career into a concrete image as I met all these confident, vibrant women who were living embodiments of that future.
Lydia Craver, ESPN
South Florida (2008) was my favorite convention – but admittedly it’s because it was the first one I coordinated. Plus, it’s pretty tough to top opening night on a chartered yacht (despite the bus fiasco!). I feel fortunate to have spent most of my newspaper life working in a market where women in sports departments – thanks to guys like my former editors: Tim Burke at the Palm Beach Post and Jorge Rojas at The Miami Herald – were treated as equals and received support to attend AWSM. It was Tim, in fact, who told me about AWSM and sent me off to Toronto in 2000 for my first convention. And Jorge, a longtime AWSM supporter, who had a heavy hand in The Herald’s sponsorship dollars so I could pay for that yacht!
Like many others, the friendships I’ve gained through AWSM are what I treasure most … which takes me back to 2000 in Toronto. I went down to the lobby in search of a snack and ran into a girl who’d finally made it to Canada after a nightmare travel day. Much to my surprise, we’d both departed from Fort Lauderdale’s airport – I’d just been on a different flight. That person was Kathy Laughlin, who became one of my dear friends in the business. As a New York Rangers fan, I was thrilled that opening night was at the Hockey Hall of Fame. I put on a mask and gloves, hopped into this net and did my best Mike Richter impression while Kathy and other new friends – including Joanne Gerstner and Jenn Overman – took shots on me with (thankfully) foam pucks. Not a pretty sight – I stunk! – but lots of laughs, nonetheless!
P.K. Daniel, Freelance
Riding in a NASCAR racecar — four laps around the oval at the Dallas Motor Speedway going about 170 mph — was the highlight for me from the 2007 Dallas convention. At the 2005 San Diego convention, which I had the honor of co-hosting, I recall dodging foul balls while watching a Padres game from the comfort of the Commissioner’s box. I also remember enjoying the shrimp and libations, courtesy of former owner John Moores.
Jill Dorson, Freelance
For the Austin convention (1994), I was working in Fort Worth and helping Tracy Dodds with the convention. The paper agreed to sponsor a dinner and political columnist Molly Ivins agreed to speak. It was a pretty big deal for me; I was still pretty young and excited to be a part of the convention. On the night of Molly’s speech, she was nowhere to be found! When I finally reached her, we realized that we had a miscommunication and she was planning to come the next night. So, just before the keynote dinner, we had no speaker. Dave Barry graciously agreed to take Molly’s place and he had everyone laughing. I joined a bottle of wine in the Island of Peace to drown my sorrows! Molly did come the next night and gave a wonderful speech!
What AWSM has given me more than job opportunities and a forum to share my concerns, is friendship. Leba Hertz, Kathy Kudravi, Ann Miller and Marta Hernandez would never have become sounding boards, mentors or lifelong friends without AWSM. Collectively, they have helped me weather the worst times and celebrate the best times.
Cathy Henkel, Seattle Times (retired)
Twenty five years ago, nearly 40 of us came together at our inaugural convention in Oakland, Calif., hosted in a semi-cheap motel and quickly proceeded, as I told sports editors at a later convention, “to bond and to bitch.” We did both and we made deep friendships that have lasted to this day. Back then, as a sports reporter in Eugene, Ore., I hadn’t run across more than a couple other women in the business. I had to get to a world stage (the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles) to find them. Still, until AWSM’s first convention, they were mostly just names to me, and even then, just a few. Oakland changed that. I remember the night we went to see an A’s game and sat in adjoining boxes. I looked around to see at least half of us keeping score. It wasn’t the usual crowd. It flat out lifted me. We also were there to cheer Don Baylor, who was then in his last year as a player. Earlier that day, Baylor became the first athlete to come to our convention and support what we were doing.
More convention scenes:
–Watching the Miss America pageant in the Island of Peace. We created the AWSM wave (kind of like screwing in a light bulb) from that, and literally laughed until we cried. Well, one of us, and I won’t say who she was (Tracy Dodds), laughed so hard she had to change clothes. Is that too graphic? Not if you know Tracy. She is a highlight of many of my AWSM memories, including her nearly two-hour acceptance speech the year she was named an AWSM Pioneer.
–We actually had a fashion show that opening year as well: What to wear in a locker room. I doubt we could get away with that now because well, women have the right to wear whatever they darn please, but back then, we were fighting stereotypes and sexual innuendos. Come to think of it, we still are.
–Moving along, it was 1993 in Minneapolis and I had managed to get Lisa Olson to come from Australia to speak to us. She was still skittish, and who wouldn’t be after such an ugly experience in Boston. We had set up a second session along with hers where the Boston Globe editors and reporters who had done a large investigative project on Lisa (hundreds of inches of copy over several days) were scheduled to appear. Some of our members expressed their outrage and anger at the Globe team for invading Olson’s private life – like calling her a boyfriend to ask about her sexual experience, writing about how ghastly it was that she wore SHORTS on a hot day of football training camp (like the men did, by the way) and other items that are blurry to me now but the emotion is not. We stood up for Lisa that day, as she had stood for us.
–There was the convention in Seattle that I organized in 1996. Mariners manager Lou Piniella was scheduled to be our opening luncheon speaker, but about 30 minutes before it was to begin, I got a note that said he was canceling. I was looking a little like a turnstile in the lobby when I ran into Claire Smith. She preceded to run down several Yankees, who were staying in the hotel, but none of them wanted to talk with us. Then she spotted legendary New York Times columnist George Vecsey, father of one of our members, Laura Vecsey, then a sports columnist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. George readily agreed to speak, and ran back to his room to change into clothes more suitable. (Frankly, it would have been OK with us if he wore shorts and a plunging neckline.) He spoke eloquently and spontaneously. As a father, he wanted the best for his daughter, and that extended to every one of us. We gave him a standing ovation.
–Someone who didn’t get a standing ovation and was also legendary was Frank DeFord, a speaker at a convention in Dallas. DeFord, quite a bon vivant, explained that if he were a female sports reporter, he would use all his feminine wiles to lure the athlete or coach into a good story. We could not believe what we were hearing.
–Finally, a more personal memory. Back to that Seattle convention, I had arranged to have Bart Conner talk to us a few months before the Olympics. I had covered Bart briefly as collegiate gymnast, and also was in Los Angeles when he won the gold medal in parallel bars. I was on the floor, behind some ropes, beaming for his win despite my crusty journalistic heart, and he spotted me. He leaned over and gave me a kiss, obviously in love with the world right then. I was a bit embarrassed — I was a Journalist with a capital J — but was none the less overjoyed for him. I told this story when introducing him to the AWSM crowd, and by golly, he kissed me again.
Thank you, AWSM, for all the memories, the friendships, the laughs, the tears, the righteous anger, the wave, the camaraderie and of course, the hugs and kisses.
Kathy Kudravi, CNN
I remember my first convention: New York in 1992. I had just gotten married two weeks before and left to check out this new group I had heard about. I remember being blown away to be in a room with that many women who covered sports. I remember going up to the hospitality suite and it was packed. As I chatted up some women, I kept bumping into the woman behind me. When I turned around to apologize – it was Billie Jean King! The next year, in Minneapolis, was when I really got involved and that was because of the kindness of Mary Schmitt Boyer. Between New York and Minneapolis, I made friends for life with Jill Dorson, Leba Hertz and Ann Miller among others. My AWSM friends are always my first call when things are good or when they are bad.
But some of my fondest memories are of the touching or funny things at the convention – Mary Garber’s story about mending players’ pants; Claire Smith’s emotional acceptance speech for her Pioneer Award; roars of laughter as Leba did “dramatic readings” of a romance novel; Ann Miller and Lori Gilbert talking about how “Gary Condit’s wife had no thumbs”; and of course, Dave Barry’s pinch-hitting when guest speakers were no-shows. I do love seeing women today who were interns or students when I first met them at the convention finding their voice as a reporter/editor/broadcaster in our business and knowing I knew them when.
Kathy Laughlin, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
We were up in the crazy-high CN Tower for a luncheon honoring Pioneer Award-winner Claire Smith (Toronto, 2000). After getting our food and settling in, we listened to Claire’s acceptance speech, as she recounted getting physically pushed out of MLB locker rooms and the hateful things that players and team officials said to her. Claire was emotional, and the restaurant was silent other than her voice. Many of the AWSM members were trying hard not to cry (or had given up and let a few tears blink out). Just then I glanced over and saw the busboys, who were standing off to the side, waiting to resume service when Claire was finished speaking. The busboys’ eyes were all filled with tears, too.
Ann Miller, Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Before AWSM celebrates this major milestone, I celebrated remembering where I put all my old AWSM papers. They date back to 1988 and have been cut way back since I relinquished the secretary-treasurer position in 1997, too old to go one more convention on 12 hours sleep. The papers brought back 25 years of grins, mostly.
I remember the day Susan Fornoff handed me the AWSM checkbook following the second convention and the day in 1994 the San Francisco hotel handed me a bill that was for far more than that checking account contained. A year later, the Miami convention brought in a then-mind-boggling $24,000 in sponsorships. The color came back to my cheeks. I could breathe again. Aside from AWSM’s rocky and surprising introduction to tax filing, in about that same era, the rest of my memories bring a smile: Vicki Lee Friedman accepting our first internship; Lisa Olson and Mary “It was a weird job in 1944 when I started and it’s still a weird job” Garber in Minneapolis; Molly Ivins and Dave Barry in Fort Worth.
But my most vivid memories remain the friendships I have made and cherished, and who kept me working in this ‘weird’ job all these years: Michele Himmelberg, Denise Tom, Lynn Zinser, Leba Hertz, Mary Schmitt Boyer, Jill Dorson, Kathy Kudravi … and those are just the ones who wanted a place to stay in Hawaii. Many of my closest friends are AWSM friends. I couldn’t have done it, out here in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, without them. Or that little postcard Kristin Huckshorn sent in 1988 reminding me to bring a jacket to Oakland.
Gina Mizell, The Oklahoman
My first convention, which I attended in Los Angeles just before graduating college in 2010, is really what sold me on AWSM. I had never been surrounded by so many women who loved sports as much as I do and who were as passionate about their work as I am. I remember hearing inspirational stories of struggle and triumph from basketball pioneer Ann Myers Drysdale and baseball executive Kim Ng. I remember tearing up when ESPN’s Shelley Smith detailed the reporting that went into her emotional piece about Jake Olson, a boy who formed a bond with the USC football team before losing his sight. I remember eating ice cream out of a plastic Dodger helmet and bowling near the Staples Center.
But, what sticks out most are the treasured relationships I’ve built because of that experience. Our group of interns – Laken Litman, Mary Albl, Jocelyn Syrstad, Abbey Doran and Marlowe Hereford and I – truly bonded that weekend and have kept in touch ever since. Jenni Carlson, who back then I only knew as AWSM’s president, is now a colleague and friend. The list of people I’ve met because of that convention goes on and on. I left that weekend inspired, motivated and thankful, and I’ve wanted to stay involved with AWSM since.
Kim Pendery, espnW
I remember my first convention in New York, way back in the covered wagon days (1992). I was a copy chief in St. Petersburg on a staff of all males and didn’t think a thing of it. I hadn’t given a lot of thought to other women in the business or why it mattered. Boy, was I naïve! I didn’t know an organization like AWSM existed until my sports editor saw a notice about the convention and asked me if I wanted to attend. I remember walking into the lobby of the hotel, seeing about 100 women milling around at registration and being stunned. The first person I met was Celeste Williams. She came up to me – I’m sure I looked lost – and she couldn’t have been friendlier or more welcoming. And that was the start of a friendship that has lasted more than 20 years, a friendship that embodies what AWSM is all about. Through the years Celeste has been there through thick and thin – a support system as we each moved up the career ladder, a sounding board while hiring staff or coordinating major events, a friend to hang out with at APSE conventions. That potential is there with each and every contact you make at AWSM. That’s why it matters.
Alisha Puckett, ESPN.com
My second AWSM convention just so happened to be the one I organized and planned, alongside with Jenni Carlson. You don’t forget all the hours and hard work that goes into such an endeavor, but as I sit here in 2013 looking back at 2011 (I know, long time), it’s funny to me that all I can remember are four days of bustling, intensive, hilarious and enriching interaction with AWSM members in Charlotte. While that convention did not boast high attendance like many others before it, the intimacy of such a dedicated and kind group of journalists is what motivates me to spread AWSM’s good word.
Linda Robertson, The Miami Herald
AWSM conventions are beacons, keeping us on course when we feel adrift. The 1995 convention in Miami Beach was that, and more. A tropical storm battered our deep sea fishing trip. I remember being pelted by rain during our Everglades airboat expedition. Meri-Jo Borzilleri lost a club when it sailed out of her wet hands into a pond during the golf outing. Susan Miller Degnan’s husband and daughter got stranded on the hotel terrace when the wind slammed a door behind them. Dave Barry kept us laughing. It was vintage bizarro Miami and the essence of AWSM: Football season, baseball season, hurricane season — we can cover anything.
Michelle Smith, espnW
My favorite memory was from the New York convention in 1992. Billie Jean King was one of our speakers and she had joined us for a cocktail reception. She was making her way around the room. She walked past me, looked at my name tag, which at the time read “Hayward Daily Review,” the local paper where I was a 24-year old staffer. I was hugely intimidated by the successful people around me working at big-name papers with jobs I thought I wanted. She stopped, introduced herself and told me she knew exactly where that was. I admitted to being a little sheepish about not being from a bigger paper and she told me to be proud of my work no matter what and that the name on the tag didn’t matter. I will always remember that.
Celeste Williams, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
My memory’s not what it used to be (Kim Pendery and I used to call it CRS disease, but I’ll keep this clean), but I’ll never, ever forget the 1995 convention in Miami. The first tropical system of the season — Allison — was forming in the Gulf and the rain was coming down in sheets at our beautiful art deco hotel on the beach. Despite all this, Kim, who was “celebrating” a milestone birthday during the convention and needed to get into international waters for some reason, signed up for a group outing on a fishing boat in what almost turned out to be a Gilligan’s Island-sized disaster. She and the rest of the intrepid sailors survived to regale the rest of us with sea shanties and how “the damn boat almost sank,” as Kim says. There was a birthday cake, too. And singing. At least that’s how I remember it.