I’m sure you have heard people asked the question, “If you could have anyone to dinner, who would you invite?”

People answer with preferred guests such as Jesus, Oprah, Lincoln, the Pope and others. But what if your guest list was limited to sports guests…and, even more so, to sports guests connected to women’s sports?

I got to thinking about this question and here are my five dinner guests (in no particular order):


Michelle Akers – Akers played on the US Women’s National Soccer Team from 1985-2000.  Tall for a soccer player with a curly head of hair and an endless competitive spirit, this forward/midfielder led the US to its first two World Cup victories in 1991 and 1999. In the ’91 World Cup Akers won the Golden Boot award after scoring ten goals. She has been inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame and was named FIFA Female Player of the Century.

I saw her play in the 1999 World Cup in Pasadena, CA. It was my top sport spectator experience. The US battled China in a tremendously hot Rose Bowl and ended up winning the Cup in a shootout.  Akers did not participate in the shootout…she was on the sideline with an IV in her arm after sacrificing her body during the game. She is my role model for perseverance and commitment, battling a variety of illnesses to continue to play the game she loved.


Kay Yow – Sadly Coach Yow is no longer with us but I had the pleasure of meeting her shortly before she passed. A successful basketball coach at North Carolina State, she was battling cancer…again…when I met her at the Final Four. Despite her illness and weakness from chemo, Coach Yow sat in a chair in a banquet room and met with every person who wanted to say a few words to her.  When I got up to her, I had to kneel down because she was too weak to stand. She took my hands in hers and locked her eyes in mine. “We have to keep fighting for the girls,” she said. “It’s important. Thank you for what you do.”

I was overwhelmed that this powerful woman who had done so much for women and girls in sport was symbolically passing a torch to me to carry on her work. I have rarely met anyone who had such a strong presence and I wish I had had the opportunity to talk with her more.


Elena Delle Donne – Sometimes you respect someone for their choices in life, and, for me, Elena Delle Donne is that person. A highly recruited basketball player, she signed to play at perennial powerhouse UConn. But not long after she arrived on campus, she left. She made the very difficult decision to return to her home state (Delaware) to be closer to her older sister, Lizzie, who was born deaf and blind with autism and cerebral palsy. Lizzie does not speak but, as Elena wrote in The Player’s Tribune, Lizzie communicates in person with hand over hand sign language…or hugs…or smiles…or kisses. Elena says Lizzie taught her that communication is much more than words.

And because Lizzie needs that in-person communication, Elena left UConn and returned to Delaware. She played for the WNBA’s Chicago Sky for four seasons and received many honors, but she doesn’t play overseas because it would take her too far away from her sister. In 2017 she was traded to the Washington Mystics at her request to be closer to Lizzie.

Elena wrote, “She’s never said a word to me, but Lizzie has taught me more than anyone in my life.” I’d love to sit with this superstar who is wise beyond her years.


Wendy Boglioli – This one is really personal! When I was a freshman in college I started competing in swimming. I was fortunate enough to participate in AIAW Nationals with a life-changing competition at Arizona State University. There I warmed up with a number of swimmers who were much more talented than I was and my mind was opened to a whole new world.

As swimmers swam by me in that outdoor pool, I became fascinated with their skills. Wendy Boglioli was a butterflier (a stroke that continues to elude me to this day!) and a freestyler who ended up a member of the 1976 Olympic team. 1976 was the Year of the East German Women in swimming and many people thought that they would take every gold medal at the Games.

But a group of Americans made it their mission to stop that sweep. Wendy won a bronze in the 100m butterfly but also was on the 4 x 100m freestyle relay. With impressive resolve, Boglioli and teammates Shirley Babashoff, Kim Peyton and Jill Sterkel not only won the event, but won it in world record setting time. It was the only gold medal the US women’s swim team would win.

What does it take to beat such overwhelming odds? How is it that four women commit to such an outstanding performance? Given the information shared post-1976 about doping in East Germany and how that likely improved performances of the East German women, is the victory any sweeter?

Wendy and her teammates did what many thought was impossible. I even named my cat Boglioli in college! I’m not a stalker, but I’d love to have dinner with Wendy!


Babe Didrickson Zaharias – Probably one of the most versatile female athletes of all time, Didrickson participated in the 1932 Olympic Games in 80m hurdles (gold), javelin (gold), and high jump (silver) but she also participated in baseball, basketball, and golf. Never a good student, she worked as a secretary for the Employers’ Casualty Insurance Company of Dallas as a young woman. Didrikson played on the company’s industrial team (governed by the Amateur Athletic Union). In the 1932 AAU Championships she competed in eight out of ten events, won five, and tied for first in a sixth. As a result, her team won the championship, but she was the only member of the team!

However, Didrickson may be most well-known for her involvement with golf.  She won the Women’s Amateur title once, the US Open three times (the third time after a bout with cancer), and she won 10 LPGA major championships. She is often on the list of Greatest Female Athlete of all time and was far ahead of her time. She died at the age of 45. Imagine what she might have accomplished if she had been able to continue to be involved in sports?

What was it like to be a woman in sports at that time? What was her favorite sport? What would she think about women’s sports today and some of the opportunities available to women?


Those are the five I choose today. Who would be YOUR five dinner guests?

By Pam Noakes
Board Member


Photo credits:
Michelle Akers photo: AP Photo/John T. Greilick (Pulled from The Seattle Times)
Elena Delle Donne photo: WNBA.com