Rick’s Sports Corner: Lilly Travieso Speaks At Women In Sports Gala

Local softball player and soon-to-be Cornell University graduate was an invited guest at the Washington, D.C. event.

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By Rick Assad

There are moments and then there are once in a lifetime moments that you’ll never forget.

In the presence of so many accomplished and distinguished women, Lilly Travieso recently spoke at Vice President Kamala Harris’ celebration of Women’s History Month honoring Women In Sports in collaboration with the Women’s Sports Foundation at the vice president’s residence in Washington, D.C.

After speaking, Travieso introduced Billie Jean King, the trailblazing tennis champion and women’s rights advocate to a crowd of about one hundred guests.

The keynote speaker was Danette Leighton, the CEO of the Women’s Sports Foundation, while Harris also spoke and was introduced by King, a Hall of Famer and winner of 39 Grand Slam titles, 12 in singles, 16 in doubles and 11 in mixed doubles.

Travieso, a senior at Cornell University, spent her formative years in Burbank and graduated from Alemany High where she played softball for four years.

“I’m the Founder of Empowering Leadership in Latina Athletes (ELLA) Sports Foundation, a non-profit that works to level the playing field for Latina athletes,” said Travieso, a third baseman for the Big Red. “With all the work that ELLA has achieved over the years in advocating and supporting young Latinas, and young women in sports, we have gained more national recognition, and this is a true testament to that.”

Travieso, whose father, Manny Travieso, is the head coach of the Providence softball team, added: “In addition, ELLA received a grant from the Women’s Sports Foundation in December 2023 to support ELLA’s Leadership Development Program for young female athletes,” she pointed out.

Travieso reflected on what it was like that afternoon in the nation’s capital.

“It was outstanding to be invited to be part of this event on behalf of ELLA Sports Foundation. To be surrounded by women who have all fought for equality in sports by breaking barriers and opening doors for the next generation, it meant the world to be a part of the event,” she said. “I was honored to have introduced Billie Jean King, who is a role model for young women like me. She is the epitome of the women’s sports movement.”

Given the honor of speaking at the inaugural event, Travieso, who is majoring in sociology and would like to work for MLB, capsulized what she said.

“It is with the hard work of women like [former No. 1 women’s player] Billie Jean King and everyone in this room that barriers are broken, and doors are opened. The inequalities faced in the past are no longer of the same magnitude as today, so I thank you all for paving the way for the new generation to come,” she noted. “By providing access and opportunities in sports for girls, we’re investing and cultivating the next generation of women leaders. To be a part of this initiative and to be a part of this movement means the world to the six-year-old girl who put on her cleats for the very first time.”

From left to right: Danette Leighton, CEO Women In Sports Foundation, Vice President Kamala Harris, tennis legend and civil rights advocate Billie Jean King and Cornell University senior and ELLA founder Lilly Travieso at Harris’ Women in Sports celebration in Washington, D.C. (Photo courtesy Women’s Sports Foundation)

Knowing the strides girls and women have made in athletics, Travieso is proud to have been at the special gala.

“Events like this are extremely important because they acknowledge the hard work women have put in to get to where we are today. It also highlights the need for us to join forces and continue to pave the way for young women in sports,” she said. “There’s still a need to support, to mentor and to advocate for the next generation of young women in sports.”

Regina Nassif knows and coached Travieso at Alemany. That she was invited to speak isn’t a surprise.

“Coaching Lilly during her high school years, I was able to witness her journey of profound growth and remarkable achievement. From the moment she stepped onto the field, her passion and dedication were evident, driving her to excel not only as an athlete, but as a leader both on and off the field,” she said. “As she now stands poised to graduate from Cornell University, her journey serves as a testament to her unwavering commitment to excellence and her ability to overcome every obstacle in her path.”

Nassif had a strong inkling that Travieso was meant for important matters.

“When she spoke at the Women in Sports celebration, it was a moment of immense pride,” she noted. “Lilly’s journey from high school athlete to accomplished scholar-athlete embodies the resilience, determination, and sheer grit that define true champions. As her coach, I am filled with gratitude for having been a part of her incredible journey, and I have no doubt that she will continue to make waves, shattering barriers and blazing trails wherever she goes. Her future is as bright as her spirit, and I am excited to see the heights she will undoubtedly reach.”       

Though women have been a significant part of the fabric of sports, the fight for equality isn’t over according to Travieso.

“ELLA” is Spanish for “HER” and an acronym for Empowering Leadership in Latina Athletes. ELLA Sports Foundation is a non-profit organization that works to level the playing field for Latina athletes,” she said. “The mission of ELLA is to support young Latinas to become leaders of tomorrow through sports and academic excellence. Through our three pillars: Athletics, Education, and Community, ELLA provides sports skills training, leadership development, mentorship, and guidance. Our team has directly impacted close to one thousand girls and indirectly more than five thousand in influencing their life outcomes through sports.”

Travieso continued: “A great example is a student-athlete at Providence High School, Olyvia Rutter, who is committed to attend NYU this fall. She fully benefited from athletic, education and community opportunities that ELLA has offered, which has completely changed her life outcome.”

Travieso is leading the Pioneers to another strong season on the softball field and is beaming with pride that his daughter and ELLA are helping so many young women.

“My main goal as a coach is to develop these young student-athletes to understand the game, maximize their strengths, and help them get into the best university possible, just as I did with my daughter,” he said. “Afterwards, they should be prepared to not only give 100 percent but also be the best person they can be. This is why I’m so proud of Lilly. She keeps improving as a person and giving back with her Foundation ELLA, as she continues to level the playing field for Latina athletes, which has attracted the attention of amazing people.”

Travieso added: “Seeing that little girl from Burbank being asked to speak at the vice president’s event and introduce Billie Jean King has made me a very proud coach and dad,” he said.

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