WWOY 25 Years

A Look Back at the First Luncheon

Sara Levinson standing next to the Women In Sports and Events signage

The first WISE Woman of the Year, Sara Levinson, at the 1995 awards luncheon.

WISE Woman of the Year Award Event Draws Crowds and Raves

More than 200 women and men converged on Madison Square Garden’s Club Grill on Tuesday, June 20th to participate in the first annual WISE Woman of the Year Award Luncheon.

Sue Rodin, Founder and President, welcomed the assembled, stating that “today’s presentation is more than a ceremony — it is also a milestone in the evolution of WISE. What started two years ago as an informal networking group has now blossomed into a national organization with the potential to involve thousands of women in the sports and special events industry …”

Rodin continued, “Jackie Joyner-Kersee has said, ‘Achievement is difficult. It requires enormous effort. Those who can work through the struggle are the ones who are going to be successful.’ In featuring our nominees, we are honoring five women of achievement who have worked through the struggles and are extraordinarily successful at what they do; each has distinguished herself in her profession. And one of them will receive a magnificent crystal award, created by Tiffany, for the inaugural WISE Woman of the Year.”

The emceeing baton was then passed to television and radio personality, producer and WISE member Ann Liguori, who opened her remarks by urging women to become more active, more honest and more involved than ever. She then recognized the five finalists: Rosa Gatti, Senior VP, Corporate Communications and Human Resources, ESPN; Sara Levinson, President, NFL Properties; Donna Lopiano, Executive Director, Women’s Sports Foundation; Robin Roberts, on-air personality, ESPN (who was en route to Wimbledon and had sent her regrets and thanks); and Wendy Selig-Prieb, VP, General Counsel, Milwaukee Brewers. Each honoree was invited to the podium, where she received a special gift from Tiffany and had the opportunity to address the audience. And then, finally, the moment of truth, the “envelope, please,” the announcement all were waiting for, the winning name: Sara Levinson.

Upon garnering the honor, Levinson stated, “This is fabulous. It (the award) is beautiful, and I really appreciate this honor more than you can possibly imagine. … I recollect a time nine months ago (when I started this job) when a press interviewer called the President of the National Organization of Women to get her reaction to a woman being named to this position at the NFL. I had no idea how much the NFL was seen as a macho­-oriented organization. ... I’m getting a little tired of being the only woman in the room at meetings.”

Levinson concluded, “At MTV (her former affiliation), we made a very conscious effort to make sure teenage girls had good role models, and we have to do that here, too, letting teen girls in on the secret of how much fun sports can be. … If in my own way I can somehow get across the point that chicks really rule, then great! Thanks!” At the delicious lunch that followed, WISE members and guests were able to socialize with others from not only the New York area, but some who had traveled a distance to be on hand. Ellen Zavian came up from Maryland for the day. Sherrie Graham, of WISE-Atlanta, flew in to meet her northern counterparts, and Selig-Prieb arranged her schedule to arrive from Wisconsin with her husband in order to receive her kudos in person. WISE warmly thanks the corporate sponsors whose generosity elevated this inaugural event to a superb level: Major League Baseball; National Basketball Association; National Football League; National Hockey League; Tiffany & Company; Lady Foot Locker; Bishop Partners: New York Road Runners Club; and WFAN. Thanks, too, to Pete Ticali (Creative Impressions printing services), Susan Marenoff and the entire MSG crew, and our staff of volunteers who greeted everyone in fine fashion. Finally, biggest “bravos” for Jenifer Miller, Raleigh Mayer and Stephanie Falk for countless hours of planning prowess!

This article about the inaugural WISE Woman of the Year Award Luncheon first appeared in WISE words, the Women in Sports and Events newsletter, Issue 6, Fall 1995, and was republished to celebrate the 25th WISE Women of the Year Awards Luncheon in 2019.