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Basketball great Rebecca Lobo speaks at the 10th Annual Celebrating Women's Athletics Luncheon at the Events Center on April 27.
Photo by Jonathan Cohen
Lobo celebrates women’s athletics – and strong mothers
April 28, 2015Tweet
Rebecca Lobo was 10 years old when her fifth-grade teacher took her aside and told her to “act more like a girl.”
“’I think you need to dress more like a girl,’” the basketball great recalled her teacher saying during a report-card review. “’You are the only girl who plays with all of the boys at recess. You are the only girl who sits with the boys at lunch.’”
Lobo took her report card home and told her mother, RuthAnn, about the teacher’s comments. Lobo’s mother ordered her to “get in the car” and the pair returned to the school to have a discussion with the principal.
“The lesson it taught me was that I had a strong woman in my house who stood up and said: ‘This isn’t right. She’s getting good grades. Who cares what she’s wearing, as long it’s appropriate. Who cares who she’s playing with at recess?’” Lobo said. “What a powerful message to send to a 10-year-old. My mother always said you can be whatever you want to be.”
Lobo went on to become one of the greatest women’s basketball players of all time, leading the University of Connecticut to the 1995 NCAA championship, winning the Naismith National Player of the Year award in 1995, earning an Olympic gold medal in 1996, playing seven seasons in the WNBA and being inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010.
Now a TV sports analyst, Lobo emphasized the importance of her mother during the 10th Annual Celebrating Women’s Athletics Luncheon on April 27, in front of nearly 550 people at the Events Center. Proceeds from the luncheon support the Binghamton Bearcats Athletic Association Women’s Scholarship Fund. Besides Lobo, speakers included Binghamton University President Harvey Stenger, Director of Athletics Patrick Elliott, America East Conference Commissioner Amy Huchthausen and Binghamton student-athlete Alexis Murray.
RuthAnn Lobo’s strength and support not only allowed her daughter to pursue an athletics career, but enabled Rebecca to take part in memorable experiences off the court, as well.
For example, Lobo shared a story about jogging with President Clinton. She was unable to attend the customary White House visit with her champion teammates after winning the 1995 title because she was preparing for the Olympic team. So Lobo was invited to later take a morning run with the president in Washington, D.C.
“I was a 21-year-old who didn’t really know how things worked,” she recalled. “When we started to jog (in the park), I thought: ‘Gosh, there are a lot of bird watchers out here.’ But the bird watchers wouldn’t have guns – those were Secret Service agents!”
Lobo reunited with Clinton four years later for an event to promote getting the Internet to low-income communities. Lobo left the press conference and took Air Force One to the next stop. While a tour of the plane from a UConn-loving flight attendant was impressive, Lobo said she was awed that each seat on the plane had its own phone. A passenger could pick up the phone and reach an Air Force One operator who would place the call.
“I called every person whose number I could remember,” Lobo said. “And not a single one of them was home! Not one person got to hear: ‘Air Force One has a call from Rebecca Lobo.’”
Lobo returned to the White House with husband Steve Rushin (a writer for Sports Illustrated) to attend a White House Christmas party with President Bush. Her most recent visit was in March, prior to the NCAA women’s basketball tournament, as she helped President Obama make his bracket picks.
She recalled getting in a taxi and asking the driver to take her to the White House.
“The (driver) had no idea who I was or why I was there,” she said. “As I’m getting out of the cab, he says: ‘Say hi to the president for me.’ I thought: ‘I really can!’”
Lobo even got to impress her children (three daughters and one son) by playing basketball with Big Bird on “Sesame Street.”
“I was able to have all of these experiences because of this strong woman who told me I could be whatever I wanted to be,” she said. “She taught me to stand up for what is right: that girls and women should have the same opportunities as boys.”
Lobo admitted that her children (ages 10, 8, 6 and 4) are growing up in a “different world” than the one that discouraged Lobo from playing basketball and soccer with the boys. In fact, she said, Rushin was watching the UConn men’s basketball team on television when their 4-year-old daughter came in and asked if “boys” were playing on the TV. “I didn’t know boys played basketball, too!” she said.
For Lobo, the continued success of female student-athletes can be attributed to women such as RuthAnn Lobo, who was also an inspiration to those with cancer before she died in 2011.
“I hope that I can – in some small way – be the woman and mother that my mother was,” Lobo told the audience. “Raise them to be strong girls and women. Raise them to have the opportunities that many women before us did not have.”