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Brakettes Legend Donna Lopiano

Sources: Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame

Induction Category: Sports  Inducted:  1995

When Donna Lopiano was a child she dreamed of becoming a New York Yankee. So it comes as no surprise that, at the age of eleven, after making the Little League team, she stood gleefully in line to receive her navy and white pinstripe uniform—that is until a local father approached her with a Little League rulebook and pointed out that girls were not allowed to play. Before this moment, Lopiano was used to playing ball with all of the boys on her street. She was treated with respect as a player and grew confident in her skills. It was this confidence that kept Lopiano going, even when she was told she couldn’t play because of her gender. It was also with this self-assurance that Lopiano made a name for herself as one of the nation’s foremost advocates for gender equity in sports.

Donna Lopiano was born in Stamford, to Thomas and Josephine Sabia Lopiano. The fact that their oldest daughter was a self-proclaimed tomboy did not phase them at all. Not only did they not discourage their daughter, but some of their actions also suggest they actively encouraged her. When Lopiano received her first Holy Communion, her gift from her parents was a baseball glove. First-generation Italian-Americans, Lopiano’s parents were restaurant owners living an American dream that demanded them to be hardworking and they did not mind if their daughter was outside playing baseball with the boys every night, so long as she had goals and never lost sight of her education.

Even though her parents supported her, the Little League incident made it clear that not everyone was a champion for young girls playing sports traditionally reserved for young boys. Opportunities to continue playing were harder to come by than Lopiano could have foreseen, but she persisted. At the age of sixteen, she was presented with the opportunity to play for the Brakettes, a national championship women’s softball team located in Stratford.

By the following year, Lopiano found herself touring Europe and Asia with a team of women she came to view as strong mentors. Throughout the years, she would look to a lot of her teammates, many of whom were older than she, as role models, including fellow player, and softball legend Joan Joyce. Between tournaments, Lopiano finished high school and pursued her bachelor’s degree in Physical Education from Southern Connecticut State University. She would also receive her doctorate from the University of Southern California in 1972, the same year she helped lead the Brakettes to a national title.

After the 1972 season, Lopiano left the Brakettes after only ten years, a career some people considered relatively short, but Lopiano had other dreams to pursue. She had earned a position as an assistant athletic director at Brooklyn College, where she also enjoyed coaching basketball, volleyball, and softball. In 1975, she moved to Austin, TX to become the Director of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women at the University of Texas. Here, her programs for women athletes won eighteen national championships in six sports and produced 314 All-Americans. As Lopiano herself was always committed to her studies, she made sure that her athletes were, too. Under her guard, the mean SAT scores of her players went up 100 points.

Lopiano became known for holding her coaches responsible both for winning and for insuring the satisfactory progress of their athletes toward a degree. She also made major strides in achieving financial equity for her programs, with most women coaches receiving the same salaries as their male counterparts.

In 1992, Lopiano became the Chief Executive Officer for the Women’s Sports Foundation and made it her mission to ensure school athletic programs throughout the country were compliant with Title IX. She maintained this role until 2007.

Lopiano is the author of dozens of publications, holds two honorary doctorates, and in 1995 was noted as one of the “100 Most Influential People in Sports” by Sporting News. In addition to the Softball Hall of Fame, Lopiano has been inducted into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame and is a member of the national honors committee of the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Donna Lopiano is the founder and president of Sports Management Resources, a firm that links experienced consultants with schools to help build strong athletic programs. She continues to highlight women in athletics through articles and interviews and maintains the fight to provide young women with opportunities in athletics.

“No child should ever be told that they cannot pursue their dreams.”

-Donna Lopiano



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