By Brooke Pryor
For GottaGoGolf founder Susan Fornoff, the need to start a support group for female sports journalists became clear the night of June 23, 1986.
The idea presented itself in a corsage box in the press box of the Kansas City Royals. It wasn’t a normal flower arrangement in the box from Oakland Athletics slugger Dave Kingman. Instead, as Fornoff opened the box, she realized that it wasn’t a flower but a rat.
The incident was Kingman’s way of protesting women covering baseball and the presence of women in the locker room, Fornoff told an audience of women who are the future, present and history of women in sports journalism during the Q&A with AWSM’s founders breakfast session that opened Friday’s convention schedule.
Kingman’s actions caused Fornoff to reach out to her sisterhood of female sports journalists to discuss what had happened and find solace in relating with women who had similar experiences.
A month later, Michele Himmelberg, now public relations director for Disneyland, met with other women at the 1986 Olympic festival in Houston, and they began to strategize a way to extend the sisterhood to female sports writers across the country.
Along with Nancy Cooney, coordinating producer at ESPN, and Kristin Huckshorn, now patient advocacy project director of the Dartmouth Institute, Fornoff and Himmelberg began sending letters to women on the Associated Press Sports Editors mailing list. The letters asked women to join a new organization.
Little by little, the group began receiving responses from women who were interested. Eventually, the organization got a name, Association for Women in Sports Media, and AWSM was born.
“When the going gets tough, women form a club,” Huckshorn said.
The group then used what was jokingly called a “Soviet-style election” to appoint Christine Brennan the first president of AWSM. The four founders were all based on the West Coast, and Brennan was, in a way, the East Coast representative.
The first convention was not quite as swanky as this year’s Phoenix convention. There wasn’t a selection of pools to choose from or plush rooms with bathrooms the size of a dorm room.
It was at the Edgewater Hyatt in Oakland, Calif., and it was less than luxurious. But nevertheless, the convention was successful, and through working connections, the women brought in speakers including NFL star Ronnie Lott and A’s manager Tony La Russa.
Though the early sessions varied greatly from the ones of recent years, the message has been the same: Help women in the field. We are our own best advocates and always appreciate the work others have done before us.
In closing, Fornoff reminded the convention audience that the term, “pioneers,” doesn’t completely describe the four founders.
“‘Pioneers’ sounds quaint,” she said. “ ‘Trailblazers’ — that’s a better term.”