World champion athlete Billie Jean King honors humanitarians and celebrates Cal State LA student success at 20th gala

California State University, Los Angeles honored a civil rights legend and an education champion, and celebrated two outstanding student-athletes during the 20th Billie Jean King & Friends Gala.

Legendary labor union trailblazer Dolores Huerta was awarded the California State University, Los Angeles Presidential Medallion and STEM education leader Tam O’Shaughnessy, Ph.D., received the Joe Shapiro Humanitarian Award.

“You know what I love about this university? I love the fact that we came out №1 for upward mobility,” Billie Jean King said to the crowd gathered in the ballroom of the Langham Huntington Hotel in Pasadena for the Oct. 21 fundraiser. “It’s about helping create leaders — leaders in life, leaders wherever you go.”

King was referring to a groundbreaking study that ranked Cal State LA number one in the United States for propelling a higher percentage of students from the bottom fifth of income into the top fifth of U.S. earners.

A world champion athlete and global advocate for social justice, King has helped support hundreds of Golden Eagle student-athletes during the past two decades. The gala was one of a number of events during Cal State LA’s 70th anniversary year.

King won her first Wimbledon title in women’s doubles while she was a player on the Cal State LA women’s tennis team. Her experience at the university opened her eyes to the inequalities that existed between men and women who competed in the same sports.

Years later, as 50 million viewers watched on television, King scored a monumental victory for women’s equality when she defeated Bobby Riggs in the “Battle of the Sexes.” That epic match is now the subject of a feature film of the same title released last month starring Emma Stone. Fellow tennis great Rosie Casals, who was also depicted in the film, joined King at the gala and has been actively involved in planning and promoting the event since its inception.

Cal State LA President William A. Covino thanked King for her unwavering support of the university’s student-athletes over the years.

“Billie Jean King has influenced history on a grand scale. But she has also left her mark on the personal histories of our students,” Covino said. “For 20 years, she has helped raise scholarship funds for our student-athletes. These funds have helped them turn the tides in their lives.”

O’Shaughnessy, the Joe Shapiro Humanitarian Award recipient, is the co-founder and executive director of Sally Ride Science at UC San Diego.

O’Shaughnessy grew up in California and played professional tennis from 1971 to 1974. She has dedicated much of her career to promoting young people’s interest in and women’s representation in STEM, or science, technology, engineering and math. She has authored 13 children’s books, helping to promote science literacy among youth. O’Shaughnessy was the life partner of the late Sally Ride, the United States’ first woman in space.

O’Shaughnessy was introduced by the gala’s emcee, tennis Hall of Famer Pam Shriver, whose late husband is the namesake of the honor. 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.

“This award actually means a lot to me, and I am very proud to be standing here in front of you,” O’Shaughnessy said as she accepted the award.

Covino presented legendary civil rights activist Dolores Huerta with a California State University, Los Angeles Presidential Medallion. The medallion is the university’s highest honor and is bestowed upon people who have displayed outstanding leadership and extraordinary service to the community and Cal State LA.

Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers labor union, first started her activism while a high school student in Stockton and went on to pursue a lifelong crusade to fight economic injustice and advocate for the working poor, women and children.

Huerta expressed her appreciation to Cal State LA and King for the work they’ve done to provide athletic opportunities to women and young people of color.

“When people engage in sports, it really helps them to overcome their inhibitions, their fears of ‘I can’t.’ They know that they belong,” Huerta said after accepting the honor. “It builds their emotional fortitude, it builds their inner strength.”

Golden Eagles soccer player Sam Croucher, a business student pursuing a Master of Business Administration, received the Billie Jean King Scholarship. He has been one of the team’s top players and leaders. He received All-California Collegiate Athletic Association honorable mention, was named to the CCAA Championships All-Tournament team and earned a CCAA All-Academic Award for the second straight year.

Computer science major Elizaveta Sokolova received the Joe Shapiro Scholarship. Sokolova earned an Intercollegiate Tennis Association Scholar-Athlete Award and Academic All-PacWest Conference recognition for a third time, and was on the Dean’s List for a fourth consecutive term. In 2015–16, she received the Cal State LA Athletics Department Academic Achievement Award.

King, in her remarks, noted the importance of continuing to fight for social justice. “That’s what we have to do — keep dreaming and keep helping others to build our communities.”

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