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Gold medalist Lawson stresses impact sports can have on girls

Basketball star and Olympian Kara Lawson challenged the Binghamton University community to continue to affect the lives of young females through the power of sports.

Lawson, a member of the gold medal-winning 2008 U.S. women’s Olympic basketball team, was the guest speaker at the 5th Annual Bearcats Celebrating Women’s Athletics Luncheon and Auction on Feb. 8 at the Events Center. All proceeds from the event benefited the BUAC Women’s Scholarship Fund. Other speakers included President Lois B. DeFleur, Interim Director of Athletics Jim Norris and Bearcats basketball player Erica Carter.

“It’s clear to me that this is a great place to be,” Lawson said of Binghamton. “And it’s clear to me that this is an athletics department moving in the right direction and creating young women who can impact the community and will impact the communities they choose to live in when they graduate. That’s a powerful thing.

“You have the opportunity to impact the young women in your lives and those who play sports at Binghamton through your support, by coming to games and by contributing financially to make programs possible.”

Lawson recalled three examples of sports making a difference in her early life. All three were in sports other than basketball, but would prove instrumental to her success on the court.

First, Lawson saw Evelyn Ashford win the 100-meter dash in the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles. Lawson knew then that she wanted to be an athlete — albeit an athlete with the goal of being the fastest woman in the world.

“At 3 years old, I was impacted by seeing a female athlete win a gold medal,” she said. “I watched a lot of events in that Olympics, but the one I remember was a female succeeding at the highest level.”

Second, Lawson became a big football fan and enjoyed playing the sport with boys. She was rejected by a youth football league at age 7, but her father would not stand for the organizers’ “boys only” rules. Lawson soon earned a spot on the team and called her two years there one of the highlights of her athletic career.

“I was taught that if you want to do something and you’re passionate about it — regardless of gender — there is an opportunity for you to succeed,” she said of the experience.

Third, Lawson praised her middle school soccer coach’s ability to stress the mental side of sports. The coach would stop practice to discuss elite athletes, what made them special and the power of perfection.

“Empowering young female soccer players with the ability to master the mental side would take them as far as they wanted to go in sports,” she said.

Lawson has gone far: She played four years at the University of Tennessee, leading the Volunteers to two NCAA championship games and graduating in 2003 with a degree in finance. She recently signed with the Connecticut Sun of the WNBA after seven seasons as an all-star guard with the Sacramento Monarchs. She also serves as a commentator for ESPN, working on both women’s college basketball and NBA games.

“I’m starting my eighth season as a professional basketball player,” she said. “Just saying that boggles my mind because there weren’t professional sports for women when I was young.”

Before Lawson spoke, Norris pointed to the on- and off-court successes of the women’s programs at Binghamton. For example, the volleyball team made the NCAA tournament and was eliminated by eventual national championship Penn State. In the classroom, nine student-athletes from women’s teams earned 4.0 GPAs in the fall, he said, and the collective GPA of the women’s teams was 3.19.

DeFleur also praised the University’s female student-athletes.

“They are not only hard-working, dedicated athletes, but they spend so much time in our community working and mentoring other young women and participating in charities,” DeFleur said. “They are role models for young girls to emulate.”

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Last Updated: 10/14/08