Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Guru Tribute to Mary Jo Haverbeck II: Fond Memories of a Mentor to Many

By Mel Greenberg

Now that we finished part one, here are what others have sent in so far -- remember it is long but you don't have to read all the way through in one shot and others are still urged to respond.

The Guru has decided, though, to avoid a file crash to split up the reaction, so there is a part three, maybe more, if necessary, to get all the notes that arrived safely out there for now to help the chronology in posting.

Anyone reading this and going to the funeral and wants to say something, the Guru will have his tape recorder to take comments afterwards. -- Mel

Since the Guru referred to his three apostles in his remarks in the post above, we'll start with Rosa Gatti.

Joyce Aschenbrenner promised remarks, too, but they haven't arrrived yet, though going through email has been tricky the way gmail likes to group things.

Mary Jo must have set the record for number of people mentored. She continually reached out to others and established F.A.M.E. as a haven - a gathering place for women in sports. Mary Jo was a smart, shining light with a great sense of humor - gone too soon. -- Rosa Gatti.

John Wooding, a former executive at the Atlantic 10 when Penn States was in the conference had this to say:

"There was always a constant whenever I went out to Penn State during my years as Assistant Commissioner of the Atlantic 10 – she would always greet you with a smile, make you feel right at home, and feel at ease. A consummate pro. Sad to hear this news.

Two former Penn State superstars in Suzie McConnell-Serio, now coaching Pitt, and Susan Robinson Fruchtl, now coaching Providence, sent the following, along with Susan's assistant Dan Durkin, who was an aide to Rene Portland back in the day.

Mary Jo was a wonderful person and helped make my time at Penn State special.She loved her job and took great care of all of us at Penn State and was a pleasure to work with. -- Suzie McConnell-Serio

Mary Jo was an original and really one of the pioneers for women's SIDs.

As a former Lady Lion, I appreciate her dedication to women's sports and especially women's basketball at Penn State and nationally.

I will always remember her working all the Final Fours. She loved the game and loved the players in the game. She was a behind the scenes type of person and worker bee but it did not go unnoticed.
-- Susan Robinson Fruchtl

MJ" was the consummate pro and so well respected in her profession…she did so many things to promote women's sports and loved to teach the young people coming up in sports information…she was always doing some task at all the major events whether it was a Final Four or a Conference Championship in any sport…I was very lucky to be around her for my days at PSU(1985-93)…she will be sorely missed in the PSU community & beyond." -- Dan Durkin

And From Kris Petersen and Stephanie Petulla in the PSU Sports Information Office.

Mary Jo will certainly be missed in the Penn State community. Her love of Penn State athletics was so evident and I have never met anyone that knew more about women’s athletics at Penn State.

She was always eager to tell the the stories of our female student-athletes and always fought for more space in the outlets that she wrote for. We will certainly miss her smiling face around the press room and at Lady Lion games. I know that I always enjoyed talking with her and hearing her stories from the road previously traveled.
-- Kris Petersen

Every year for Take Your Daughters to Work Day, MJ would have all of the student assistants into her office for bagels and talk to us about how our classes were going and what our career aspirations were.

This dialogue wasn't a once a year thing. She checked in with us regularly and was invested in our futures in whatever profession we chose, but in particular sports information.

She worked hard as a mentor to help us be the best we could be, and opened doors for us to get the experience necessary to achieve our goals. During my time as a undergrad, I was able to be very involved not only here at Penn State, but also at national events like the NCAA Women's Final Four because of Mary Jo.

Beyond the doors she opened for female sports communications professionals with her own storied career, she mentored countless others of us to where we are today. It's hard to believe she is gone. She will be missed greatly.


Chris Plonsky, now women's athletic director at Texas as part of her titles but a former SID with the Longhorns and Big East, offered:

We've lost http://www.centredaily.com/2014/01/08/3974796/walter-moody-haverbeck-will-be.htmlpart of "us" -- all women in sports communication — with the passing of our smart, talented and caring friend Mary Jo. She was an effective and respected leader in the college sports information profession during a most critical time, from the early AIAW era through the first 20 years of the NCAA conducting championships for women's sports. MJ was so important in publicizing women's sports, not just at Penn State, but nationally. She retired from PSU in 1999, but even since then, my mental filter for all things Penn State has always included MJ.

She loved her work, and her enthusiasm, her classiness, her intellect, and her absolute love for and pride in the Nittany Lions were evidence of the passion she had for sports and academics in tandem. No one appreciated and did more with big-time sports in a university setting than MJ. She made women in our profession — and men — better people, better employees, just by being and working around them. And as a professor and teacher, she was the consummate mentor, positively influencing many others to pursue our profession.

One fond memory from a long past CoSIDA convention is trading stories and experiences about being women in the demanding, tough SID profession on a panel with MJ, Joyce Aschenbrenner, Debbie White, Linda Venzon, Debby Jennings and I may be missing a few others (Tam Flarup?). During that session, we laughed at some stories, and damn near cried at others. But we were in it together, had each other to lean on, and that's how we survived.

Peace and blessings to our wonderful friend, MJ. We promise to keep paying you forward!


Penn State grad Cathy Bongiovi wrote:

“I wouldn't be in working in collegiate athletics if it weren't for Mary Jo Haverbeck. There’s no doubt Mary Jo opened doors in the sports information/media relations profession for women like me.

She was the first to do so many things in our profession, and she did them well.

And Mary Jo had to do it with the only tools of the time-- common sense, confidence, and personality. She exercised patience and perseverance during the new era of women's athletics. We have all been influenced by her. Mary Jo is already greatly missed. Rest in peace, my friend.”


- Cathy Bongiovi (Penn State 1987),
Associate Communications Director, Temple University

Former Penn State women's lacrosse coach Julie Williams said:

I just wanted to reach out and let you know that MJ was indeed my first best advocate when I coached Lacrosse at Penn State from 1989 - 1999.

Many times, she coached me through how to handle myself with reporters, how to stick to what was most important, how to keep the players in mind, always. How to take the hit for a loss and give away the props for a win.....

She was quiet about her accolades. She never advertised what a pioneer she was. I know that she really enjoyed her work with NCAA women's basketball--that there, her efforts were appreciated and honored.

"One story that I most remember is the day she invited me to come to what she called "dance" class. It was step aerobics and was in a very average gym, no bells and whistles. She had used step aerobics to get really fit, lose some extra pounds, and she went religiously everyday at lunchtime. I loved that we shared something that wasn't about competing. In a world where most every conversation centered around competition, MJ and I found a place where we could just be two people who loved dancing. Dancing everyday was her drug, and I'm not sure many people knew that about her."


Doug Vance, new executive director of CoSIDA, on behalf of the organizattion wrote:

Without question, the CoSIDA family has lost someone who brought great wisdom, vision and leadership to the organization. She was beloved by many and will be greatly missed.

And Tam Flarup reacted on first contact to help handle coverage of our friend:

I have so many fond memories. this was my first interaction....what a fine lady.

Returning on the plane from my first CoSIDA convention in 1978 as a young SID at Wisconsin, I was able to sit next to Mary Jo Haverbeck. Already a icon, she had accomplished what no other woman in college sports information ever had accomplished...the cover of Time Magazine. And it was a field hockey player.

There were so few women in the sports information profession at that time...really just a handful at the convention, but Mary Jo was our idol. I was tongue-tied sitting next to her. But she made it easy to talk about our work, gave me great ideas and confidence.... just as she did for the next 30 years. MJ was my mentor, my confidant, and my wonderful friend as I continued in the profession.

To say we lost a 'great' in our profession doesn't do her justice. She was absolutely one of the first and best in the field for a very long time, and she challenged us and laid the pathway for many of us to follow.


In the interest in not losing the file, the Guru is closing this and go on to part three in the next post.

-- Mel



- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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