Where would we be without sports dominating our American culture and daily lives? Today's youthful generations are in touch, in synch, cyber-confident, and blessed with an over-abundance of participation opportunities and instant globalized media access to games, scores, and stats.
In many ways, today's young microwave society is too removed from history lessons and role models to appreciate the evolutionary changes in sports. There was little surprise in the reaction from members of the Association of American University Women [AAUW] when telling a story of playing rover on a 1971 basketball team where no other teammates could cross the center line.
The majority lived as little girls and teenagers without ANY sport opportunities beyond what were available though physical education classes. Where would our young women be if Tiffin didn't have high school sport teams or Blackswamp or YMCA or CYO leagues or park leagues or sand volleyball courts or open gyms?
Bettsville High School just canceled the entire girls' basketball season due to the lack of enough females to field a team. Two dedicated players, however, are living in a time where trying out for the boys' team is no longer taboo and Bettsville will become the next local high school with a girl appearing on a boys team roster. Anyone who follows local high school soccer is accustomed to girls playing on the boys team, so the basketball crossover can almost be considered as pretty normal.
Someone who isn't a stranger to playing with the boys is professional sports agent Molly Fletcher from Atlanta.Talking socially with one of the most powerful women in sports reinforced the perception that grace and charm don't have to disappear just because you play hardball with pro team owners like the late George Steinbrenner or celebrity clients like John Smoltz, Ernie Johnson Jr., Tom Izzo, and Doc Rivers.
Molly Fletcher is a genuine southern dynamo, who has been called the female version of Jerry Maguire. She is a cross between Susan O'Malley, [former president of the NBA's Washington Wizards] and Hollywood's Susan Sarandon. There is little controversy on her pending induction as one of Street & Smith's Sport Business 40 Most Powerful Women under 40.
While Molly Fletcher represents a handful of pros on the ATP circuit, one client she would love to have is Maria Sharapova. At the age of 23, Sharapova is the world's highest-paid female athlete having earned $24.5 million in prize money and endorsements last year. In the finals of this past summer's Wimbledon, Sharapova lost to Serena Williams.
Williams earned $1.5 million - the same amount earned by men's champion, Rafael Nadal. Billie-Jean King, on the other hand, earned $1,175 for
winning the 1968 Wimbledon title, which was less than half of what men's champion received.
Molly Fletcher is the keynote speaker for the NCAA Women's Leadership Symposium in Intercollegiate Athletics.
Although Fletcher is a true inspiration for women breaking though the glass ceiling in the sports world, her story almost pales in comparison to that of Sarah Panzau, who spoke to 700-plus Tiffin University student-athletes this week.
Panzau was a two-time JUCO All-American volleyball player who drove drunk and survived a near-fatal car accident that left her with one arm, many scars, and yet, a new lust for life. After nearly 40 surgeries, she rose above adversity to qualify for the USA Paralympics volleyball team and competed internationally until more surgeries ended her career forever.
It is impossible to express the emotion Sarah drew out of her young Tiffin audience as she passionately told her gut-wrenching story of a flawed decision that led to a severed limb, countless broken bones, life-threatening internal injuries, weeks in a coma, being declared a "Jane Doe" until her mother could positively identify the body, and being forever labeled a disabled, handicapped person.
Sarah was a perfect example that while most college students live for the moment, thinking they are relatively invincible, one poor choice can forever shatter their life and become a parent's worst nightmare.
Panzau described years of rebelling against a parent who seemingly and relentlessly badgered her to excel in sports, school, work, relationships, and every facet of her life. Now, that former perception of over-intrusion has been replaced by knowing she was blessed with a caring parent who should have been cherished instead of chastised.
Maybe it was the fact that Sarah Panzau was a volleyball standout, but it led me to consider how much my husband and I constantly push our 16-year-old daughter who just completed her junior year as a starter on Calvert's volleyball team.
"Success rarely comes without effort; failure is never an option, and being the best is always the goal in every phase of your life," is a mantra she and her younger sister have heard 1,000 times over, yet, while at an impressionable age for decision-making regarding future colleges and important social choices, the seemingly constant pressure to exceed expectations will hopefully be appreciated rather than scorned. Hopefully those college athletes listening to Sarah grasped something positive too, and for that, her hour in Tiffin was worth more than all the money in the world.
One can only wonder what a Sarah Panzau - before the accident - would have added to a Tiffin University or Heidelberg volleyball team.
Across town, Seiberling Gymnasium probably was beyond capacity when the Student Princes volleyball team, ranked No. 13 in Division III, defeated Ohio Northern to earn its second-consecutive OAC title. The stands were filled with hundreds of players and parents from local high schools, and Dave Reinhart's infamous Blackswamp Club. It is difficult to imagine any of those parents not constantly reminding their daughter about the road to success and the importance of good decision-making.
The payoff for Heidelberg players seemed eminent - those young ladies have definitely found a new level of success and the Sarah Panzau of today would have appreciated the adoration too, if only she had the chance to change one poor decision.
Molly Fletcher would have been proud to be among those listening to Sarah's story or in the gym when Heidelberg women won their latest crown.
By the way, another local youth sport star to keep on the radar screen is Derrick Goliday, a transfer to Columbian who has excited those fortunate enough to have witnessed a mighty good football team headed into playoffs.
Goliday is one of the NOL leaders in rushing, kickoffreturns, and scoring. He lives with his brother, also his guardian, Lamar Tipton. Tipton was a standout for the Dragons football team at Tiffin University and is proudly supporting the Tornadoes.
Stay tuned next month for more inspiring and amazing sport stories from our small community in northwest Ohio to around the globe.
Bonnie Tiell is Tiffin University's faculty representative to the NCAA.