The Association for Women in Sports Media will celebrate its 30th anniversary at its 2017 convention May 7-10 at the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa near Austin, Texas.
In 1987, Nancy Cooney, Susan Fornoff, Michele Himmelberg and Kristin Huckshorn founded the organization, simply as a support group for women in sports journalism. AWSM has grown to include professional members, student chapters and a summer internship/scholarship program. Furthermore, the annual convention continues.
Cooney is a coordinating editor with ESPN’s SportsCenter and News division. She formerly worked at the Philadelphia Inquirer in a variety of roles including sports editor and investigative editor, and at the Sacramento Bee. Cooney and AWSM co-founder Fornoff were the 2014 Mary Garber Pioneer Award winners.
Fornoff is now a golf writer — and an avid golfer — who founded the website GottaGoGolf.com and wrote two books: “Confessions of a Golf Slut” and “Lady in the Locker Room: Adventures of a Trailblazing Sports Journalist.” She covered the Oakland Athletics in the 1980s for the Sacramento Bee.
Himmelberg, the 2001 Pioneer Award winner, worked at five different newspapers, including the St. Petersburg Times and Orange County Register, and was first woman beat writer to cover the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and San Francisco 49ers. She is also one of the first female sports columnists at a major daily newspaper. She is a public relations director for Disneyland Resort.
Huckshorn, the 2006 Pioneer Award winner and the 2017 Ann Miller Service Award winner, is a former New York Times deputy sports editor. Huckshorn is a freelance editor, producer and writer who covered the NFL, college sports and the Olympics, then was a political reporter who covered major national and international events, including civil wars in Somalia and Bosnia.
In honor of AWSM’s 30th anniversary, we ask the four founders about the start of and the development of the organization since 1987.
What was the genesis of AWSM?
We were lucky in the Bay Area in the late 1980s to have a network, small as it was. We worked with other women, in the field and in the office, and could vent, ask for advice, cry, rail, laugh and share our experiences. The idea of AWSM was to expand that network. We wanted to make sure that other women who were doing the same thing we were — something really hard — could reach out to for support and advice and friendship.
There had been plenty of discussion about this by women sports journalists all around the country. We noticed how satisfying it was when we would cover the Olympics or the Super Bowl or the World Series and see others like us. We felt so much less alone. So why not create a formal support group that could accomplish that on a more constant basis? Nancy, Michelle, Kristin and I talked about that over a dinner out, as many other women had done. The key to actually getting AWSM going was that each of us walked away with duty-and-deadline, some sort of task we were to accomplish by a certain point. Being good deadline-driven journalists, our fires were lit and AWSM was off and running.
As a woman working in sports journalism in the early 1980s, I had to step out and be “first” in a lot of difficult situations. For me, far more important than being first was not being the last. I also didn’t want to continue being the first everywhere I went. It was isolating and, sometimes, overwhelming. That was the genesis of AWSM, for me and the other co-founders. I figured there were talented and driven women working in sports in a lot of places, and I believed we would be better at affecting change and gaining acceptance if we joined together and had a unified voice.
There were few women sports journalists in the early 80s and we were spread around the country. We felt a need to connect so that we could share experiences and issues and offer one another guidance and moral support. We also knew that we would have a more powerful voice if we spoke as one. Those of us in California were blessed with numbers — there were at least 10 of us and we saw first-hand how much more empowered we felt through the support and friendship of female colleagues. After talking for a couple of years about starting an organization, four of us got together for dinner after a San Francisco 49ers game and created an action plan. It was bare bones. Our black-and-white newsletter was printed and mailed with postage stamps. We faxed information back and forth. Our first convention got underway with a total of $1,000 in seed money from 10 newspapers. And we were grateful for their tiny contribution!