Reaching New Heights was an appropriate theme for an awards luncheon with a 6-foot-4 1/2 center as its keynote speaker.
The theme also says something about how far women’s athletics in Columbia have come in the past century and where they are going.
WNBA Finals MVP Ruth Riley spoke to a gym full of the female athletes, coaches, administrators and fans crowded around tables at Columbia College’s Southwell Complex on Tuesday.
The Women’s Intersport Network for Columbia awards luncheon celebrates women’s sports in Columbia by awarding the community’s outstanding female athletes, coaches and administrators as part of National Girls and Women in Sports Day.
Riley talked about her journey from being the tall and uncoordinated girl at the end of the bench as a teenager to winning college basketball’s Naismith Award at Notre Dame.
Riley, a center for the defending WNBA champion Detroit Shock, focused her speech on the opportunities available to female athletes.
“Women’s athletics has evolved throughout the years from when my mom was in high school to when I played and to now,” Riley said. “The opportunities to play in college and go beyond college are a lot more than what they used to be.”
Gladys Stankowski knows about how far women’s athletics in Columbia have come. Stankowski, 95, has been an active participant in Columbia women’s athletics since before women were allowed to compete. This year, WIN presented her with the Sportswoman of the Year award.
“I’ve watched women in sports come from nothing to what they are today,” Stankowski said. “There were no intercollegiate (competitions for women) when I was growing up … it was just play dates with other universities.”
Although the luncheon celebrated how far women’s sports have come in Columbia, a man won the final award. WIN for Columbia presented Bob Burchard, Columbia College’s men’s basketball coach and athletic director, with the Kent Heitholt Memorial Award, given each year to a person who shows support of women’s athletics and has a positive influence on women in sport.
Under Burchard’s watch, Columbia College has started a women’s basketball program that has risen to national prominence. Women’s basketball coach Mike Davis said Burchard’s fair treatment of the women’s athletic programs has helped his team to be able to compete at a high level so soon after the program restarted in 2001 after the program disbanded in 1978.
“The great thing about our women’s programs is that they’re not treated as women’s programs,” Davis said. “They’re just (treated as) athletic programs.”
Amina Shelton, 10, won Youth Athlete of the Year after an outstanding year as a long jumper. She finished fifth at the National Junior Olympics and jumped 14 feet, 7 inches in another meet to set record for the third-longest jump by a girl her age.
Jayne Miller, a former Columbia College softball pitcher, won the Collegiate Sportswoman of the Year award. In 2003, she was named an NAIA All-American as well as region and American Midwest Conference pitcher of the year.
Hickman senior Kaela Rorvig followed her sister Anna’s 2003 High School Sportswoman of the Year award by winning the trophy.
Ann Sievers, an MU assistant swimming and diving coach, won Mentor of the Year.