Women's Hall of Honor inductees enjoy the eyes of Texas still looking upon them
They came from near -- Georgetown and Dallas -- and far -- New York and Connecticut -- for the sixth annual University of Texas Women's Athletics Hall of Honor induction ceremony.
They came, as Jackie Swaim DiNardo, one of the honorees stated, "because this is the greatest thing ever. I don't have the words to describe it. Oh, I can say how great it is, but that's not even enough."
Joining Swaim DiNardo in the class of 2006 were Sharon Neugebauer-Shepard, Betsy Rawls, Dr. Sheila Rice, Cynthia Sampson Shipper and Shola Lynch.
While Swaim Dinardo played only two years at Texas after transferring from McLennan Junior College, her impact has lasted a generation.
She starred on the 1978-79 Longhorns team that went 37-4 and led UT to a No. 4 ranking nationally, which was the highest at the time. She was co-captain and paced the Horns in scoring, rebounding and steals during the 1980-81 campaign. She is 17th all-time in points scored (1,405) and her 16.5 points per game and 58 percent field-goal norm both rank as the third-highest in Texas history.
"I thought no one would even remember me," said Swaim DiNardo from her Danbury, Conn., home. She is a counselor, teacher and volleyball and basketball coach at Danbury High School.
"When I got the call about this, I couldn't believe it," she continued. "I just said to myself, 'Are you kidding me?'"
Swaim DiNardo called the induction the happiest day of her life.
"I love The University of Texas," she said, noting that her Connecticut license plates have UTEXAS on them. "It's a little piece of Texas. I'm just a Texas girl in Connecticut. I never lost Texas. (She moved to Connecticut in 1984.) I always felt so special at The University of Texas and that was because of Jody (Conradt). Jody saved my life because she made me realize that I had to work hard in basketball and academics.
"When she recruited me, the first thing she said had nothing to do with basketball. She looked me in the eye and said, 'You will go to class and you will graduate.' Here I was thinking I was the queen and she told me how it was going to be!"
Swaim DiNardo laughed when she recalled the time Jody tossed her from practice for pouting.
"I tell that to my players all the time," Swaim DiNardo said. "I tell them, 'Yes, I was thrown from practice for pouting, so don't any of you come in here with any attitude.'"
For Swaim DiNardo, the Hall of Honor induction ceremony was a most emotional time.
The joy of being recognized by her alma mater was dampened by the unexpected death of her father, Jackie, the week before. The chair at the luncheon table that was to be his remained empty.
"My dad, who I was named after, drove a truck, so he never got to see me play at Texas," she began. "He was so looking forward to being there. And my mom and I finally had talked him into moving from Texas to Connecticut. He was going to be coming back with me after the ceremony.
"It was very emotional for me when I got up to talk. I put aside the piece of paper and said, 'OK, you can do this.' I wasn't afraid to let anyone see how much my father meant to me. And while he wasn't in his seat, he was there with me."
Asked if she considered not coming to the Hall of Honor ceremony because of the timing of her dad's death, Swaim DiNardo didn't hesitate in her reply.
"Never," she said emphatically. "With everything Texas did for me, how could I not be there. Jody treated me like royalty and kicked me in the butt when I needed it.
"I really took Jody with me when I left Texas, and she always has been with me."
Sampson Shipper helped make women's tennis a staple of success during her matriculation at Texas, guiding the Longhorns to the 1981 Southwest Conference tournament title. She was team MVP as a senior in 1981-82 and was unbeaten in doubles play in 1980.
"I was so overwhelmed when I got the call on the Hall of Honor," said Sampson Shipper, who lives in the Dallas area and is an executive with Wilson Sports in its golf and racket sports division.
"I had no idea," she continued. "Of course, I was thrilled. It was almost surreal at first. I never expected something like this. It is an incredible honor."
Sampson Shipper also said it bought her some 'cred' with her oldest son, Dillon, who is 11.
"He was telling people, "Hey, my mom is in The University of Texas Hall of Honor,''' she said, with a laugh.
Sampson Shipper said she bleeds orange and she and her husband, Ronnie, follow UT's teams. They are at home football games and many of the away games.
Recalling her strongest memory from Texas, she said firmly, "Discipline."
"Discipline when playing and even more so when it came to academics," Sampson Shipper added. "At Texas, you truly were a student-athlete. The discipline helped you organize your schedule because with travel and matches, time was limited."
Sampson Shipper said it is that organizational skill and discipline that has served her both as a business executive and a mother.
"I do think organization is my greatest asset," she said. "And I learned that while at Texas."
Sampson Shipper said she has spoken with Dr. Michael Sanders in student services about working with Texas student-athletes.
"I want to give back to Texas for all it gave to me," she said.
Shola Lynch, a track and field standout from 1988-92, won six SWC championships by sweeping the indoor and outdoor 800-meter titles in 1988. She added four more in 1992 at the indoor and outdoor 800 meters, as well as the 1,500 meters and indoor mile. Lynch ranks sixth all-time at UT in the indoor 800 meters (2:07.06).
"The funny thing about this award," Lynch said of the Hall of Honor induction, "is that I usually don't look back, but rather look at future goals. I thought it was really nice. I am humbled by it."
The Hall of Honor induction represented her second visit to UT to be recognized in just a few months. Lynch won the 2005 Outstanding Young Texas Exes award last spring. Lynch was feted for her professional achievements as a filmmaker and her loyalty to the university.
Lynch's professional work is outstanding. She has received kudos as a documentary director and producer for work that has been seen at the Sundance Film Festival, South by Southwest, and the Independent Spirit Awards.
Her work on "CHISHOLM '72 -- Unbought & Unbossed" was her directorial debut last February.
CHISHOLM '72 captured the life and times of Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American woman elected to Congress and to run for president.
Perhaps the irony for Lynch was that she actually didn't think she would come for the induction ceremony when she first learned of being selected.
"Understand, I thought it was a great honor," she said. "But, as I mentioned, I never have been much for looking back. I had a lot on my plate and had it not been for the persistence of the folks in the UT Athletics department, I might not have made it."
But, she did -- and what happened was a life-altering event for Lynch.
"I really was unprepared for how emotional the event was," she began. "And it really made me think that it is good to look back, to reflect and to enjoy the past. The whole weekend I was thinking how great it was to have been an athlete at The University of Texas. How fortunate I was."
Lynch also said what made her a good athlete at Texas is what made her a good student and what has made her a success in filmmaking.
"Being determined and being aggressive, not in a negative way, is what makes you a success in athletics," she said. "Being prepared and doing all of the work you need to do is how you have to be in the business world, too. The one thing when you are an athlete that you learn is that you can't win a championship without hard work and preparation. You can't fool yourself."
Lynch said the perseverance she learned as a UT athlete helped her through the early days in filmmaking.
"You learn that it's not over until it's over," she said, in her best Yogi Berra-ese. "The Hall of Honor weekend was a reminder of how you need to look back and enjoy what you have accomplished and you realize how many good things you have done.
"The University of Texas helped me to help myself get set up in life and so far it's gone pretty well."
Neugebauer-Shepard, who currently teaches fourth grade and is a mentor in the Hays Consolidated School District, was one of Texas' first dual sport stars, starring in volleyball from 1981-84 and also in track and field in 1982.
She was a key performer on the 1981 AIAW National Championship volleyball team and helped guide the Longhorns to four Southwest Conference titles and a berth in the Final Eight of the 1984 NCAA Championships. In track and field, Neugebauer-Shepard was a pivotal performer on the 1982 AIAW 3,200-meter relay championship team.
Rice spent 20 years (1977-97) building a "championship" academic support team. For 11 of those years (1977-88), she was the academic support team, handling everything from class registration to housing to meal planning to financial aid.
In 1981, Rice was in charge of the first structured academic study program with women's basketball, hiring an academic coach to assist the players. So successful was this program that it was expanded to all teams for the 1982-83 school term. By 1990, 20-plus academic coaches and 80 tutors were part of the program.
The results were evident as Rice's work helped produce six Phi Beta Kappa's, seven NCAA Post-Graduate Scholarship recipients and 18 National Academic All-America honorees. In Rice's tenure, 96 percent of the female student-athletes who completed their athletic eligibility graduated.
Betsy Rawls, who was the recipient of the UT Women's Hall of Honor Legacy Award, was an undergraduate at UT from 1947-50.
"I was very pleased and thrilled to learn of being taken into the Texas Hall of Honor," Rawls said from her Wilmington, Del., home. "I have a soft spot in my heart for The University of Texas."
While Texas did not have organized intercollegiate athletics for women at that time, the physics and math major went out on her own to play golf. She worked with the legendary Harvey Penick and in 1949 captured the Texas Amateur Championship only four years after picking up a club for the first time.
Rawls, who won 55 LPGA titles in her career, also is a member of the LPGA Hall of Fame's inaugural class, the Texas State Golf Hall of Fame and the World Golf Hall of Fame.
"Being chosen for the Hall of Honor is a privilege," Rawls said. "Texas is home for me."
Curiously, her biggest memory of her time at UT had nothing to do with athletics.
"Academics," she said. "I remember Texas had the highest standards for academics. They expected a lot out of you and wouldn't settle for anything less."
Even with living on the East Coast, Rawls said she follows Texas closely and has kept in touch through the years.
"The Hall of Honor makes me feel kind of special," she said. "Of course, The University of Texas always has made me feel kind of special."