Billie Jean King & Friends Gala honors student success and exemplary contributions

October 23, 2016


Cal State LA honored two outstanding student-athletes and recognized the contributions of three individuals who have left a lasting legacy during the 19th Billie Jean King & Friends Gala.

 A world champion athlete and global advocate for social justice, King has helped raise more than $3 million in scholarships for student-athletes through her gala. She opened the event at the Langham Huntington Hotel in Pasadena with a moving tribute to her former Cal State LA coach and longtime friend Joan Johnson, who passed away on October 14. 

“She was really a special human being,” King told the more than 500 people who filled the hotel ballroom on Saturday night. 

PHOTOS: Billie Jean King & Friends Gala

King, who won her first Wimbledon title while she was a player on the Cal State LA women’s tennis team, credited the University with providing a transformative experience. “It changed my life to be a student-athlete at Cal State LA,” she said.

Cal State LA President William A. Covino thanked King and fellow tennis great Rosie Casals for their unwavering support of the University’s student-athletes. 

“With a great team of perennial supporters, Rosie and Billie have helped transform the lives of so many students, informed the ethic that drives the University to greatness, and shown us what our motto—pushing boundaries—really means,” Covino said.

Among those who attended the October 22 gala were Congresswoman and alumna Maxine Waters,  California Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León, Los Angeles Councilman Gil Cedillo, Los Angeles Councilman Jose Huizar, CSU Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs  Loren J. Blanchard, CSU Assistant Vice Chancellor for Advancement Services Lori A. Redfearn, East Los Angeles College President Marvin Martinez, Los Angeles Community College District Chancellor Francisco Rodriguez and alumnus and former Assemblyman and Los Angeles Councilman Richard Alatorre. 

George L. Pla, a successful entrepreneur and philanthropist whose business and civic activities have helped communities across California, was honored with the 2016 Joe Shapiro Humanitarian Award.

A Cal State LA alumnus, Pla is president, CEO and founder of Cordoba Corporation, a nationally recognized civil engineering, program and construction management firm specializing in transportation, education, and water and energy infrastructure. Cordoba Corporation transported the Space Shuttle Endeavour through the streets of Los Angeles in 2012 as more than a million cheering bystanders watched the historic event.

Pla was introduced by Waters, who noted that he has dedicated his life to helping others. The Joe Shapiro Humanitarian Award is presented in memory of Joe Shapiro, who was a member of King’s executive committee. Shapiro was known for working enthusiastically to help student-athletes reach their educational and athletic goals.

“I am honored to be mentioned in the same breath as Joe Shapiro,” Pla said as he accepted his award 

The University paid tribute to President Emeritus James M. Rosser, who directed the University for 34 years, longer than any other president in Cal State LA’s history. He was selected as the University’s sixth president in 1979 and retired in 2013.

During the gala, it was announced that the University plans to name a building in Rosser’s honor. 

Rosser credited students, faculty and staff for helping make Cal State LA a great institution and accepted his recognition on their behalf. “I stand here on the shoulders of Golden Eagles and Diablos,” he said.

Dodger great Steve Garvey was honored with the L.A. Sports Legend Award.

Garvey, a National League MVP and 10-time All-Star, is one of the most successful Major League Baseball players of all time.  Playing first base, he was part of a stellar Dodger infield and helped lead the team to a World Series title in 1981.

“I’ve been blessed,” Garvey said, adding that “the greatest gift is to give back.”

Khallifah Rosser, a liberal arts major and one of the top hurdlers in the nation, received the Billie Jean King Scholarship. Rosser had an extraordinary junior season on Cal State LA’s men’s track and field team. He won the NCAA Division II Championship and qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon, where he narrowly missed advancing to the finals by two-hundredths of a second. 

Psychology major Iris Raileanu received the Joe Shapiro Scholarship. In her junior season on the Cal State LA women’s tennis team, she posted one of the conference’s best singles records with a 15-5 overall mark. She was 14-4 in dual matches at No. 4 singles and picked up 12 victories in doubles. She earned Academic All-PacWest recognition for the second time and was honored with the ITA Scholar-Athlete Award.

“Thank you all for being here tonight, and for being part of the Cal State LA team,” Covino said. “With your support, we will continue to graduate future leaders who will transform our world.”

Photo: Left to right, George L. Pla, First Lady Debbie Covino, President William A. Covino, Billie Jean King, Executive Athletics Director Daryl Gross, Steve Garvey and President Emeritus James M. Rosser. (Credit: J. Emilio Flores/Cal State LA)


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Cal State LA is a university dedicated to engagement, service, and the public good. Founded in 1947, the University serves more than 27,000 students and 247,000 distinguished alumni, who are as diverse as the city we serve. Located in the heart of Los Angeles, Cal State LA has long been recognized as an engine of economic and social mobility. Led by an award-winning faculty, the University offers nationally recognized programs in science, the arts, business, criminal justice, engineering, nursing, education and the humanities.

Cal State LA is home to the critically-acclaimed Luckman Fine Arts Complex, Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs, Hertzberg-Davis Forensic Science Center, Hydrogen Research and Fueling Facility, Billie Jean King Sports Complex, TV, Film and Media Center and the Center for Engagement, Service, and the Public Good. For more information,