‘Living proof’: The women who helped grow women’s athletics, Title IX in Connecticut, nationally

Photo of Maggie Vanoni

Title IX forever changed the sports world after becoming a law in 1972.

It banned sex discrimination in educational programs, enforcing equal opportunity for all, including within athletics.

Since its creation, millions of girls and women have benefited from sports. Whether playing through long lasting careers on both the collegiate and professional level or simply being impacted by the many life lessons one learns through participating in sports.

In honor of Title IX’s 50th anniversary Thursday, June 23, here is a handful of women who have helped grow women’s sports both in Connecticut and nationally:

Donna Lopiano - Stamford

Raised in Stamford, Lopiano has been at the forefront of growing women’s athletics starting with her career as a Stratford Brakette pitcher in the late 1960s. She became the first Director of Women’s Athletics at the University of Texas in 1975. Lopiano also served as a former CEO for the Women’s Sports Foundation. As an athlete, Lopiano is a nine-time All-American and a member of 13 halls of fame, including the National Sports Hall of Fame.

Ginny Gilder - Yale women’s rowing

As a freshman at Yale, Gilder helped the 1976 women’s crew team stand up for equal treatment. That spring the team led a strip-in protest at the athletic department’s offices to demand change since the women’s team was not granted access to post-practice showers like their male counterparts. Gilder went on to become a Title IX activist and an Olympic silver medalist.

“It’s funny, because there is no question that the most important part of my education happened because I rowed. That’s really the truth. Yeah, I majored in history, but I spent more time at the boathouse, more time learning about what it took to be really good at something and then of course I learned all about the legal system,” Gilder said. “So, what I often say is I got radicalized at Yale. I became a feminist.”

Lisa Brummel - Westport, Staples High School, Yale women’s basketball

During Brummel’s freshman season on Yale’s women’s basketball team in 1977, she remembers the team being forced to do their own laundry, while the men’s team had laundry services provided. Brummel had a standout career with the Bulldogs before becoming Microsoft’s VP of human resources. Along with Gilder, Brummel is a partial owner of the WNBA’s Seattle Storm.

“Sports has been everything to me,” she said. “For me, it’s the thing that has really structured how I think about being productive and how I think about being with other people, who are my teammates, and I think that’s something many people don’t learn who haven’t played sports.

“You see the progression over time, should have happened faster maybe who knows, but for me, I do really realize the impact of Title IX all through my life and I’m incredibly thankful for it.”

Peggy Myers - UConn women’s basketball

Myers, a New Jersey native, played on Geno Auriemma’s first team at UConn in 1985. Not only does she remain in the Huskies’ record book (Myers, now Walsh, is No. 2 all-time with a 12.5 single-season rebound average), but has been the program’s assistant for the past 27 years. Myers’ husband, Norm, played football at UConn. Both of their kids, Kelly and Tommy, were also UConn student-athletes in track and field and football.

“I think sports are incredibly important,” Myers said. “It just builds character. It builds strength, it builds adversity, it builds so many factors in your life moving forward that can help you in so many aspects. I think it’s huge. I really do. Not to mention, exercise and working with a group and becoming a leader and showing your competitiveness and all the things that are positive. Everything in athletics rolls over into the real world.”

Jennifer Rizzotti - Women’s basketball

Rizzotti was born in 1972 in White Plains, New York. She grew up in New Fairfield playing on boys teams since there were very limited girls youth sports teams, and even less that were competitive to the level she desired. Rizzotti helped UConn win its first national championship in 1995 before becoming a two-time WNBA champion with the now-defunct Houston Comets. Rizzotti continued her passion for sports by becoming a collegiate coach (first at the University of Hartford then George Washington) and is now the current president of the Connecticut Sun.

“(Sports have) been ingrained in every single part of my life. I don’t remember a day that I wasn’t playing a sport. I don’t remember any part of my life without sports,” Rizzotti said. “I got an opportunity, because of Title IX, to earn a scholarship. I got a chance to play for the best women’s basketball program in the country …

“There really isn’t a part of my life that hasn’t been touched by or impacted by sports. And so, if there’s anybody that’s kinda living proof that Title IX was good for them and provided them with an opportunity to excel in life, then I’m probably it.”

Jackie DiNardo - Danbury High School

DiNardo led a standout career both as a player and later as a coach for Danbury’s girls’ basketball team, where she has led the Hatters for more than 30 years. She played collegiately for Texas under Jody Conradt, then with Team USA under Pat Summitt in the 1979 FIBA World Championships alongside the likes of Nancy Lieberman and Ann Meyers.

She was inducted into the Connecticut Basketball Hall of Fame in 2012. In 2019, she became the state’s second girls basketball coach and first female coach to reach 500 wins.

Judy Deeb - East Lyme High School

Deeb was was East Lyme’s softball coach when the program was created in 1972, the same year Title IX became law. In 2021, she won her 1,000th game and is the state’s career leader in wins.

She also won a state title in 1994 and has coached basketball and field hockey at East Lyme. Deeb has also been a physical education teacher.

Babby Nuhn - North Branford High School

Nuhn has coached field hockey at North Branford also since the program’s inception in 1972, helping the team to both Class M and Class S championships. Nuhn has served on the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) committee, the Connecticut High School Coaches Association and was a representative with the National High School Coaches Association.

She also coached gymnastics and softball at North Branford.

Priscilla Schulz - Staples High School, Southern Connecticut State College, New Canaan High School

The former volleyball star has continued to shape the sport’s growth in Connecticut as a high school coach. She was named the Connecticut High School Volleyball Coach of the Year in 2000.

A Southern Connecticut State graduate, Schulz is the physical education teacher at New Canaan.

Felice Duffy - Title IX Attorney, UConn women’s soccer, Yale women’s soccer

Duffy filed an action against UConn in 1978 under Title IX to help create the school’s women’s soccer program. As a player she was an All-American and selected to be on the first U.S. Women’s National Team. Duffy also served as the head coach of Yale’s women’s soccer team for 10 years.

A New Haven-based attorney, Duffy has been an expert on the subject of Title IX and has been part of Title IX litigation.

Pat Meiser - UConn, University of Hartford

The woman responsible for hiring Geno Auriemma at UConn. As the university’s associate athletic director and senior women’s administrator, Meiser is credited with making the biggest hire in the history of the women’s basketball program.

Meiser, who was head basketball coach at Penn State from 1974 to 1980, went on to serve as the athletic director at Hartford from 1993 to 2014. While at Penn State, she offered the first athletic scholarship to a woman in school history. At Hartford, she was one of just 12 female AD’s in the country when she was hired and she was responsible for giving Rizzotti her first coaching job.

Debbie Chin - University of New Haven

Chin retired in 2017 after serving as UNH’s athletic director for 24 years. She first joined the university’s staff in 1975 as coordinator for women’s athletics, becoming the first coach for a handful of the school’s women’s sports teams.

As volleyball coach, Chin was 578-179 record in 19 years as UNH became a Division II power. In 2006, she was inducted into the American Volleyball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

Chin also emerged a national voice, serving as chair of the NCAA Division II Management Council, and on the Division II Membership Committee.

Chris Dailey - UConn women’s basketball

Auriemma’s right-hand assistant since first arriving in Storrs in 1985. Dailey has since been promoted to program’s Associate Head Coach. She’s been credited as the backbone of the Huskies’ recruiting efforts and was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2018. She is undefeated, 13-0, when filling in for Auriemma and serving as the team’s head coach.

As a player, Dailey was a two-year captain at Rutgers. She was part of the 1982 AIAW championship team and broke into coaching at Cornell and Rutgers in in the early 1980s before joining UConn.