Cal State L.A. names the ‘Billie Jean King Sports Complex,’ honors Olympian Rafer Johnson during annual fundraiser
Annual Billie Jean King and Friends adds to the
more than $2.2 million already raised for student-athletes to date
Pasadena, CA – Hundreds of guests, including local dignitaries, world-renowned athletes, campus staff and student athletes were on hand Sept. 25 to celebrate the naming of Cal State L.A.’s (CSULA) “Billie Jean King Sports Complex” and honor Olympic gold medalist Rafer Johnson during the 13th annual Billie Jean King and Friends event.
Pictured: (l-r) CSULA President James M. Rosser, Billie Jean King and CSU Board of Trustees Chair Herbert L. Carter.
The fundraiser took place at the Langham Huntington Hotel & Spa in Pasadena. King, who was surprised by the naming of the Sports Complex during the fundraiser, received the honor from CSULA President James M. Rosser and Herbert L. Carter, chair of California State University Board of Trustees. Johnson, a 1960 gold medalist in the decathlon, was honored with the 2010 Joe Shapiro Humanitarian Award at the event.
King’s legacy as an alumnus and ambassador for CSULA, and as a champion both in tennis and for student athletes, are just a few of the reasons that contributed to the decision to name the Sports Complex in her honor. The complex includes the Eagles Nest Gymnasium, University Stadium, Jesse Owens Track and Field, Reeder Field (baseball), the swimming pool, tennis and basketball courts.
“This is Cal State L.A.’s way of acknowledging Billie Jean for her outstanding personal and professional achievements, her sustained commitment to the University, and for her life-long dedication in promoting a healthier mind and body. She has consistently broadened educational access and fostered diversity with excellence, particularly at our University,” said Rosser. “The Billie Jean King and Friends event is a point of pride at Cal State L.A., not only because it generates support that helps transform student-athletes’ lives, but also because it demonstrates what is possible when heartfelt, enthusiastic people rally to support something that is truly important.”
Through her direct involvement, King has generated more than $2.2 million in scholarships with the annual event. This year, the fundraiser included a silent auction and a dinner and program to ensure the continued support of athletics on campus through the CSULA’s Student-Athlete Scholarship Fund.
“The concept for the event originated with an effort Rosie Casals [former tennis professional] led to save the tennis programs at San Jose State University. When we learned Cal State L.A. needed our assistance we immediately knew we had a good idea, but we wanted to improve upon it and expand it to all athletic programs at the University,” explained King. “We have been blessed to have the support of Rosie, Pam Shriver and so many others each year. The event has grown into a program, which brings pride to all of us and hopefully is meaningful for the University, the student athletes and the entire Cal State L.A. community.”
King, who is among CSULA’s most famous alumni, attended CSULA from 1961 to 1964 and played on Coach Joan Johnson’s team, the first women’s tennis coach at the University. She was named to the University’s Athletics Hall of Fame in 1986. In 1997, she was awarded an honorary doctorate by the California State University system.
“I’m thrilled and humbled [by the naming]. My years at Cal State L.A. were a big part of my life and my career. I went to school there, I played sports there and in part, many of my values were founded there. Those formative years were a major stepping stone for me,” said King. “I share this honor with every student who has ever come through the doors of the school and every athlete who has trained and competed on these fields and courts. Just as my coaches, Scotty Deeds and Dr. Joan Johnson, inspired me, I hope this recognition inspires others and brings some well-deserved visibility to this wonderful University.”
Throughout her career, King has been instrumental in raising awareness for social justice, change and equality. She spearheaded the fight for equality in women’s tennis in the 1970s and made a strong statement for women when she defeated Bobby Riggs in the infamous “Battle of the Sexes” match in 1973 before a record 50 million viewers on ABC’s Wide World of Sports.
King was also responsible for establishing the Women’s Tennis Association, Women’s Sports Foundation and championing Title IX (the equal opportunity in education act based on gender) in 1972. She was also one of the founders of World Team Tennis in 1974.
King has won a total 39 Grand Slam titles – 12 in singles, 16 in doubles and 11 in mixed doubles. She won 20 of those at Wimbledon: six singles championships, 10 doubles titles and four mixed doubles crowns.
In 2009, King was awarded the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom, at the White House by President Barack Obama. She also has received the NCAA President Gerald R. Ford Award for her contributions to education and intercollegiate athletics. Life Magazine named King one of the “100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century” for her ability to enhance and elevate sports throughout the last four decades.
At the fundraiser, Johnson received the Shapiro Award for his work in improving the lives of those afflicted with disabilities. Like King, Johnson has also demonstrated a passion for helping young athletes as one of the founding members of the Special Olympics in Southern California and his more than 40 years of work with the organization. In addition, the Rafer Johnson Children’s Center in Bakersfield continues to provide classes for Birth-5 special education students.
“There is more in all of us, whether it is in sports or everyday life. When someone comes alongside us with a pat on the back or an athletic scholarship, it offers encouragement for us to continue,” said Johnson. “We are inspired to work harder, become better – maybe great – and often be the best that we can be. No one can ask more.”
A versatile athlete who played football, baseball and basketball in high school, Johnson was attracted to the decathlon after seeing two-time Olympic Champion Bob Mathias compete. He completed his first decathlon in 1954 as a UCLA freshman and that same year broke the world record in just his fourth competition. Johnson then won a silver medal in the 1956 Olympics before taking the gold in 1960.
“Rafer Johnson embodies all of the characteristics of a great leader and I am thrilled he is this year’s recipient of the Joe Shapiro Humanitarian Award. As an athlete he was unmatched and as a man he leads by example,” said King. “Rafer has never been one to seek out the spotlight. Rather, he is a humble man who is committed to making a difference in the lives of others.”
In 1994, Johnson was elected (along with Arthur Ashe) into the first class of the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame. In 1998, he was named both one of ESPN’s 100 Greatest North American Athletes of the 20th Century and one of the 100 Most Influential Student-Athletes of the past 100 years by the NCAA in 2006.
Joe Shapiro Humanitarian Award
The Joe Shapiro Humanitarian Award is presented in memory of Joe Shapiro, who was a member of the Billie Jean King Executive Committee and who worked enthusiastically to assist student-athletes in reaching their educational and athletic goals. The Shapiro Award is given annually to an individual whose work and service to the community promote a positive and lasting impact. Past recipients have included King, Maxine Waters, Chris Evert, Dr. Sally Ride, Patricia Cornwell, Maria Shriver, Anne Douglas and last year’s winner, Frank Deford.
Shapiro was also a faculty member at Cal State L.A. and the late husband of tennis Hall of Famer Pam Shriver.
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