DePaul’s Lenti Ponsetto a Title IX honoree

“Cruisin’ down Fullerton, and it’s hoppin.’ Stopping 4 coffee now.”

Don’t expect to see a “tweet” like that from DePaul athletic director Jean Lenti Ponsetto any time soon. Or ever, maybe.

“I’m not a social media expert by any means,” Lenti Ponsetto laughed. “I don’t have Facebook and I don’t engage in all that ‘tweeting’ and ‘twitting.’ I’m pretty sure people wouldn’t be interested in reading little things like that about me anyway.”

But Lenti Ponsetto may be warming up to the potential that Facebook and Twitter could have for delivering bigger messages about the news of the day at DePaul.

She just won a national contest largely on the power of viral persuasion.

Lenti Ponsetto was one of 25 women from colleges across the country who were finalists for the “Title IX Trailblazer” award sponsored by the National Association of Collegiate Women’s Athletics Administrators

Two weeks ago, I wrote about Northwestern lacrosse coach Kelly Amonte Hiller also being a finalist, along with former Illinois State athletic administrator Dr. Laurie Mabry, former longtime Texas women’s basketball coach Jody Conradt and former UCLA multisport star Ann Meyers Drysdale, just to name a few.

The 25 nominating schools all made YouTube videos of their trailblazer hopefuls, and the school with the video that received the most views during the designated voting period (which ended about two weeks ago) was promised a $9,000 gift for its women’s athletic programs from the NACWAA Foundation Fund in honor of this year’s 40th anniversary of Title IX.

Lenti Ponsetto’s video got the most views. In a landslide. Her video was viewed more than 180,000 times while the next in line tallied 38,000.

DePaul promoted the video on its own website, but apparently word spread through other mediums, like when former DePaul and NBA players Quentin Richardson and Bobby Simmons tweeted about it. Current students on campus also posted the video to their Facebook pages.

“I am overwhelmed by this,” Lenti Ponsetto said. “I’ve heard from people all over the country who were seeing the video by someone who sent them the link. The lesson to be learned is that the DePaul network is wide and vast. And our DePaul people ... they got their competitive edge on to help us get the most views. They were watching the video like crazy.”

But what started as a viral challenge quite possibly wound up being a great history lesson for all those who viewed Lenti Ponsetto’s video.

A trailblazer she is, for sure.

Lenti Ponsetto arrived at DePaul as a student in 1974, a year before the school started awarding scholarships for female athletes. Yet she threw herself into four sports, starring at basketball, volleyball, softball and tennis. Volleyball and tennis ran at the same time, but she made it work.

Female athletes then had to be resourceful, and anything but diva-like.

The uniforms for basketball, volleyball and softball were the same, and she and her teammates bought their own shoes and paid for their own meals on road trips.

“I was in that first wave of women who benefitted from Title IX and I am so thankful for that,” said Lenti Ponsetto. “But even though the opportunities were starting to be there for women, it was a lot different back then than it is now. I try to explain that to the athletes we have here now so they have an understanding of what it was like before Title IX. I want them to recognize there was a struggle in order for us to get to where we are now.”

Lenti Ponsetto has watched the journey from many vantage points.

After graduating, she stayed at DePaul and was an assistant coach for the women’s basketball team. In 1983, she became an assistant athletic director for women’s sports.

Ten years ago, she was named DePaul’s athletic director, becoming just one of about 20 female college athletic directors in the nation. That group is still small. There are slightly less than 30 in that role today.

“That’s one of the next steps that has to happen,” Lenti Ponsetto said. “So many women have advanced into that No. 2 spot, but there are many women out there who are fully capable of being No. 1s. It really has everything to do with who is doing the hiring and what their comfort level is.

“Some people still might not be used to the idea, but the fact is there are women out there with tremendous business acumen who are very capable of overseeing football and men’s basketball, negotiating TV contracts and working in a collaborative way to get things done in an athletic department.

“I’m just glad DePaul was very progressive and gave me the chance to carve my own path.”

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