WWOY 25 Years

A Look Back at the Second Luncheon

Left to right: Val Ackerman, Sue Rodin, WISE Woman of the Year Lydia Stephans holding her award, Kathy Davenport, Robin Roberts and Lesley Visser

Left to right: Val Ackerman, Sue Rodin, WISE Woman of the Year Lydia Stephans, Kathy Davenport, Robin Roberts and Lesley Visser at the 1996 awards luncheon.

1996 Woman of the Year: Lydia Stephans

More than 350 WISE members and guests assembled at the Waldorf=Astoria on June 25th to participate in the second annual WISE Woman of the Year Award Luncheon. Sue Rodin, Founder and President, welcomed the crowd by proclaiming the WISE mission, “WISE seeks to influence the sports and events business to create and fill more senior positions with qualified women, to advocate for more coverage of women’s sports and events in the media and to provide a forum and a discussion of key issues affecting our constituents. WISE is still a ‘work in­ progress,’ although we’ve certainly come a long way from our beginnings three years ago as an informal networking group.”

Rodin continued, “Susan Butcher, [four]-time winner of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race said, ‘Personal sacrifice is really the beginning and ending of everything. You don’t win because you do one or two things right. You win because you do thousands of little things right throughout the year.’ Today we celebrate five women who have done thousands of things right throughout their careers. They represent a wide spectrum within the business of sports and events. We also recognize last year’s finalists Rosa Gatti, Senior VP, Corporate Communications and Human Resources, ESPN; Donna Lopiano, Executive Director, Women’s Sports Foundation; Robin Roberts, on-air personality, ABC Sports/ESPN; and Wendy Selig­-Prieb, VP, General Counsel, Milwaukee Brewers as well as our inaugural winner, Sara Levinson, President, NFL Properties. Rodin turned the stage over to Robin Roberts, who introduced a video produced by ABC Sports [that] provided background and featured highlights of all five nominees. Roberts then proceeded to introduce the 1996 nominees: Val Ackerman, Vice President, Business Affairs, NBA; Kathy Davenport, Vice President, General Manager, Lady Foot Locker; Anita DeFrantz, President, Amateur Athletic Foundation (who was en route to the Olympics and sent regrets and thanks); Lydia Stephans, Vice President of Programming, ABC Sports; and Lesley Visser, Correspondent, ABC Sports/ESPN. Roberts invited each finalist to the podium to address the membership and receive a special gift from Tiffany’s. Sara Levinson did the honors and announced this year’s winner, Lydia Stephans.

“Thank you so much,” said Stephans. “I don’t think that among the group of nominees, one of us can really be singled out in the way I was because clearly everyone is so very accomplished. I know that they broke barriers without trying to do so; they just did it because of their passion for what they are doing. Thank you again.”

After the lunch, WISE members and guests had a chance to mingle with sponsors and other members, including several people who had traveled great distances to attend. Bob Hope, President of Hope-Beckham Inc., traveled from Atlanta. Flo Bryan, head of the women’s sports initiative at Walt Disney, flew in from Orlando, Kathy O’Connell Johnson, Director of Women’s Sports Marketing at Reebok, came from Boston, and Ellen Zavian, sports attorney, attended from Maryland for the day.

Special thanks to Carolyn Taylor, Erica Lebensberg, Raleigh Mayer, Lori Anne Kober and Patty Bifulco for countless hours of planning and work to make this a great day, as well as to our staff of volunteers. Hope to see you all there next year!

This article about the second inaugural WISE Woman of the Year Award Luncheon first appeared in WISE words, the Women in Sports and Events newsletter, Issue 9, Spring 1996, and was republished to celebrate the 25th WISE Women of the Year Awards Luncheon in 2019.