CBS Sports’ Jenny Dell hosts UMass’ panel to mark 35th anniversary of National Girls & Women in Sports Day

Sports Editor
Published: 2/2/2021 8:50:47 PM

The University of Massachusetts has helped grow some of the best athletes and coaches in the history of women’s athletics. That history was on full display Tuesday night, as the school hosted a panel discussion with some of the best it has produced over the past few decades.

Wednesday marks the 35th National Girls & Women in Sports Day (NGWSD), aimed at celebrating girls and women, and promoting equity in sports.

Tuesday’s panel, hosted by UMass alum and CBS Sports reporter Jenny Dell, featured five other prominent UMass alumnae: Hannah Burnett (’18), Pam Bustin (’90), Heather MacLean (’17), Rachael Rollins (’94) and Paula Wilkins (’94).

The decorated panel talked to their virtual audience for an hour, telling stories and offering lessons about the impact of sports in their lives, both personally and professionally.

Rollins, a former captain for the UMass women's lacrosse team who scored 70 goals and 19 assists during her career with the Minutewomen, was the first woman elected as District Attorney in Suffolk County and the first woman of color ever elected to serve in the role in Massachusetts. She said her time at UMass, and her experience with athletics helped propel her into the spotlight.

“None of that is possible without sports for me,” Rollins told the panel. “You have to be exceptional. As women, we don’t get to fail upward, especially in male-dominated fields. You have to be qualified to do your job.”

Bustin, the head field hockey coach at Duke University, said she is celebrating her 30th year as a college coach. A star player under legendary UMass coach Pam Hixon, Bustin played for the United States at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta before turning her attention to coaching.

“Anything we can share as women in the industry, it’s so important,” Bustin said. “The more we do this, the stronger we become for the future. We had just a few strong women in those coaching roles back in my day and without them we all wouldn’t be here today.”

Wilkins played on perhaps the best women’s soccer team in school history, as the 1993 squad reached the NCAA Final Four. She said Title IX helped get her coaching foot in the door at Penn State, where she served as an assistant coach for seven years before taking the head job for six seasons. She left to rebuild the program at the University of Wisconsin, where she’s helped turn the Badgers into a perennial power. Current U.S. National Team star Rose Lavelle played for Wilkins at Wisconsin.

“I always consider myself a Title IX baby,” offered Wilkins. “I grew up playing with the boys. Penn State had just added a women’s soccer program due to Title IX and that was my first coaching job.”

Burnett, a three-year let terwinner with the women's lacrosse team, has taken to the NFL ranks for her professional career. After stints with several other franchises, she was hired by the New York Giants in 2020 as a scout, the first woman in a full-time scouting position in Giants history. Burnett said she tries to best prepare for any situation, particularly as a woman in a male-dominated field like professional football.

“You have to be on top of your game times ten,” she admitted. “If you slip up once, it comes into question, ‘does she know what she’s talking about?’ When I walk into a room, I know I belong there, especially if I can say I did everything to prepare and be the best scout I can be. If I do that then whatever happens, happens.”

Dell said that growth of women’s sports is possible thanks in large part to the work of pioneering women, many who were involved in Tuesday’s panel.

“There are barriers that we need to keep working to break down and I know everyone in this panel is helping to do that,” she explained.

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