Longhorn Hall of Honor: Chris Plonsky
Nov. 16, 2011
Natalie England, TexasSports.com
Chris Plonsky begins every day by reading from her thesaurus, which might be why words don't really do her justice.
Terms like "work ethic" and "courageous heart" don't define her. She defines them, and breathes life into the notion that one can do anything she sets her mind to.
As just the third athletics director in the history of its storied women's athletics program, Plonsky is in her 23rd year of association with The University of Texas. Since she assumed the role of women's AD in 2001, the Longhorns have won two NCAA team titles (2005 Outdoor Track and Field, 2006 Indoor Track and Field) and 33 Big 12 Conference crowns.
"When you work at a place like Texas, your job isn't a job -- it's your life," Plonsky says. "I feel as strongly about the bad moments as I do the good moments, because it's enveloping. I'm just fortunate to be part of it. Being at Texas is an experience, and you're just part of the movement."
The eldest of Ed and Mary Ann Plonsky's five daughters, Plonsky grew up in Pennsylvania and Northeastern Ohio. Sports were never far away -- afternoon doctor's appointments in the city were also excuses to catch the final few innings of a Pittsburgh Pirates game.
A dream to one day write for Sports Illustrated led Plonsky to major in journalism at Kent State, but her crafty renaissance education merely paved the way for a renaissance career. Plonsky earned three letters in basketball, served as editor of the school newspaper and was the student sports information director from 1976-79.
Following her graduation, Plonsky worked as women's SID at Iowa State from 1979-81 and first joined the UT Athletics staff in the winter of 1982 as women's sports information director. When Plonsky first learned of the opening at UT, she told a friend, "I'd crawl on glass for a job at Texas."
As it turned out, all she had to do was drive. Following an interview in Austin, Plonsky accepted the job over the phone, standing near her fire place. Not much later, the Iowa State women's basketball team was playing a tournament in Kansas, where Jody Conradt and her Lady Longhorns were also playing. Plonsky came down, worked the tournament with the Cyclones and then followed the UT caravan in her car down Interstate 35 to Austin.
"They were just mesmerizing to me," Plonsky said of her first encounter with the Longhorns. "They wore these bright, white uniforms, and were so athletic and powerful. I was overwhelmed with the greatness."
At 23, she was young, bold and naturally bursting with the pride of Texas. A typewriter never far from her side, Plonsky oversaw publicity for UT's thriving eight-sport women's program, which claimed nine national championships from 1982-1986.
Plonsky was named BIG EAST Conference office director of public relations in July 1986 and spent seven years with the league in public relations and assistant/associate commissioner capacities. UT Men's Athletics Director DeLoss Dodds persuaded Plonsky to rejoin the Longhorns in October 1993, and she's grown into one of UT's most influential administrators.
Last November, Plonsky delivered a lecture at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs on leadership and strategy. Her remarks came about one hour prior to one of the more important meetings of Plonsky's life.
Later that Tuesday night, the UT Board of Regents voted to accept President Bill Powers' recommendation that The University pursue its own cable and satellite television network.
Plonsky's multi-media rights experience, gained during her tenure with the BIG EAST, proved invaluable last winter, as she and Dodds championed a groundbreaking partnership between UT, IMG College and ESPN.
Longhorn Network, a first-of-its-kind television network exclusively dedicated to UT and UT sports coverage, launched on Aug. 26, 2011, with a live two-hour special from The University's South Mall.
Plonsky, still a journalist at heart, is rarely without her ever-present smartphone. It rings to the tune of SportCenter's theme.
"This Hall of Honor is really for coaches and kids, and people who serve the coaches and kids. I'm deeply appreciative," Plonsky said. "It's always been about Texas. It was that way when I got here, it was that way when I left, why I always paid attention to it. This place is just extraordinarily special. It becomes you."