Billie Jean King called – and they all came to the Langham Huntington Hotel and Spa in Pasadena on Saturday, November 5. Although doctors did not allow the longtime “champion for social equality” to fly to her Los Angeles alma mater because of a severe sinus infection, “her spirit filled the room,” as the evening’s MC Pam Shriver liked to put it so eloquently. The annual fundraising efforts benefit tennis and all athletic scholarship programs and the total proceeds generated over the past 13 years surpassed $2.4 million. Ex-touring professional Mary Carillo, this year’s recipient of the Joe Shapiro Humanitarian Award, and President of USTA Serves, is widely recognized as one of the most talented and opinionated network television broadcasters.
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One of the many dignitaries attending the gala was Joan Johnson, PhD. Kinesiology faculty member at Cal State L.A. for 40 years, Dr. Johnson was also the Women’s Tennis Coach and in that capacity she coached Billie Jean King for 2 ½ years, before King decided to make a full-time commitment to tennis. Johnson said, “Billie Jean was the best team member playing Southern Cal intercollegiate tennis. She continued to go on to Australia to practice and become a Champion.” Johnson also pointed out that King was fighting all her life supporting equality for men and women.
Sandy Kriezel is the current Director of Tennis for Cal State L.A., in her second year after coaching the men’s and Women’s team at CalPoly Pomona for 13 years. She was quite pleased with that morning’s tennis activities. “In conjunction with the BJK Dinner CSULA Women’s Tennis held kids and adult tennis clinics this morning. We held a USTA Campus Kid’s Day clinic and brought in 25 kids from the Stewart Ketchum YMCA in downtown LA. The SCTA provided bus transportation for the kids, in addition we had 12 more sign ups for a total of 38 participants. The adult clinic was also well attended with 35 participants. Tennis legend Rosie Casals, and legendary coach Joan Johnson were in attendance.
At the conclusion of the clinic events we hosted the USC Tennis on Campus team who mixed with our CSULA women for a Collegiate Team Challenge exhibition using the WTT scoring. It was an exciting competitive match.”
Kriezel points out there is so much opportunity at Cal State L.A. to grow the tennis program. She was able to recruit many talented players, hard working kids who want to achieve on the court. Her outstanding player for the coming semester is also one of the two recipients of the 2011 Joe Shapiro Scholarship Award: Christie Lau, one of the top NCAA Div. II women’s tennis players in the country. Kriezel adds, “This was an exciting day for us, our courts were full with enthusiastic participants and tennis and fun were abundant. I was extremely proud of the CSULA women’s tennis team for giving back to the local community. My thanks also go out to Henry Talbert and Linda Milan with the SCTA/USTA organization, and the Ketchum YMCA for helping make this a successful day on the courts.”
Like every year, the evening’s Silent Auction was filled with an eclectic selection of prizes from a signed St. Louis Cardinals baseball to golf at the MountainGate Country Club, hotel and casino packages, 40 Yard Line tickets to the USC vs. UCLA game with John Wooden, and a beautiful vintage Jefferson Airplane CD collection.
Pam Shriver was her usual funny self as Master of Ceremonies. She became a little more serious reminiscing about her late husband Joe Shapiro, his interactions with Billie Jean King, and his desire to teach. Shapiro passed away two years before the second Billie Jean King event at Cal State L.A., causing Billie to announce the creation of the Joe Shapiro Humanitarian Award and Scholarship. “Billie’s spirit fills the room and she isn’t even here,” said Pam.
Referring to the 2011 Honoree, Shriver continued, “Carillo is the best Journalist that’s ever been an athlete. Not just in tennis, any sport!” Putting a lighter side on her introduction she continued, “Her tennis career was so, so… but watching her was like watching a piece of art.” Mentioning Carillo’s work as the President of USTA Serves, the National Charitable Foundation of the USTA, Shriver adds, “Mary Carillo raises everything she touches to a higher level.”
Cal State L.A. President James Rosser quoted the great Arthur Ashe saying “When bright young minds can’t afford college, America pays the price.” He pointed to Scholarship Award winner Lau Christie being ranked no. 23 nationally in Division II Tennis, and having a 3.94 GPA, as one great example of a hard working young American college student.
2011 Joe Shapiro Award Honoree Mary Carillo and Pam Shriver are close friends. Making fun of her friend’s 6’2” frame she remembered young Pam’s coach saying, “It’s like teaching a bloody broomstick.” Referring to her relationship with Billie Jean King, Carillo mentioned she was only 16 at the time of the Battle of the Sexes, and the event signaled a monumental change for her. She had the opportunity to practice with King at a very young age and remembers her idol saying, “You’re not a tennis player – you like words! You need to be a writer or something!” Carillo added, “Cal State L.A. has done a lot to shape King’s life. She encourages everyone to dream BIG, have opinions, and shape your world.”
Previous recipients have included Billie Jean King, Maxine Waters, Chris Evert, Dr. Sally Ride, Patricia Cornwell, Maria Shriver, Anne Douglas, Frank Deford and Rafer Johnson.
Rosie Casals is an Executive Board Member at Cal State L.A. Athletics. She is also one of the nine women called “The Original Nine” – the women who played in the first Virginia Slims tournament in Houston in 1970 (Judy Dalton, Kerry Melville Reid, Rosie Casals, Julie M. Heldman, Billie Jean King, Kristy Pigeon, Peaches Bartkowicz, Nancy Richey and Valerie Ziegenfuss).
Casals owns Sportswomen, Inc, a full service sports marketing and promotion company providing services in the areas of special events (charity, celebrity, dinner galas), sponsorship, management and consulting. She is excited about a reunion planned for The Original Nine in April next year at the Family Circle Cup in Charleston, SC. “I took part in changing the way people think about women in sports and this is the first big reunion we had in 42 years!”
At the podium she mentioned that Billie Jean King doesn’t like the phone too much, but loves texting. Casals also reminded everyone that “…there is something special about this dinner. I have been to a million dinners and so has Shriver, but this one is special.” Pointing out that Cal State L.A. named their Sports Complex the “Billie Jean King Sports Center” last year, she was able to emphasize the close relationship between King and the school.
What is it about Cal State L.A. that causes people to rave about the school and encourages sports greats like Billie Jean King to stick around and help raise funds to the tune of $2.4 million leading up to the 2011 event? Florita Otto, one of the school’s Financial Aid Counselors, says it best: “With around 22,000 students, Cal State L.A. is the best kept secret amongst all Southern California colleges. The athletic opportunities for students are amazing. Potential students should really look at Cal State L.A. as their first option when looking for a southern California college.” The facts speak for themselves: More than 30% of students achieve a 3.0 GPA or better, and 7 of the school’s athletic teams finished post season this year.
The evening ended with the customary live auction. Pam Shriver and Mary Carillo have done this many times before. Leading the bidding wars with charm and humor, they were able to entice guests to pay thousands of dollars for several packages including the BNP Paribas Open, LA Dodgers, International Tennis Hall of Fame, Elton Jon and Celine Dijon at Ceasar’s Palace in Vegas, US Open, and Wimbledon. CA State L.A. President Rosser was the lucky bidder on a Patricia Cornwell package with her new book “Red Mist.”
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