July 10, 2014
University of Michigan director of athletics Dave Brandon will regularly offer his view on a variety of topics related to U-M and intercollegiate sports. All his posts, along with links to related content, will be available on his page, mgoblue.com/brandon, and he is also on Twitter at @DaveBrandonAD.
Over the past 50 years at Michigan, we've seen some truly dynamic student-athletes come and go, some with more success than others. Most have played one sport; a couple of players have tried two sports, or like our football Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson, someone who has played both offense and defense. But a three-sport student-athlete would be out of the question if it weren't for Penny Neer.
Penny took multi-tasking to new heights on the athletic field in the early 1980s, playing three sports -- basketball, softball and track and field -- earning eight letters.
So when you meet someone who could compete competitively as a student-athlete in three sports and then graduates with a 3.0 grade-point average in computer science in four years, it is special.
That is how I felt Monday evening, the first time I met Penny Neer.
The Glick Family and Alro Steel were hosting members of the Michigan Athletic Department at its annual outing at the Country Club of Jackson. Prior to dinner, our good friend Al Glick walked over to me and said there was someone who wanted to meet me. It was Penny.
Our schedules had never meshed when she made the trip from her home in Hillsdale to Ann Arbor, and even though I have read and heard about her, this was the first time we met face to face.
When I asked her to tell me her story, the first thing she told me is there is one accomplishment she has done, and it will never be repeated in the history of the University of Michigan.
I was then expecting her to rattle off something more along the line of being one of the most decorated student-athletes in the history of Michigan's women's athletic program. Or I expected her to talk about her legendary accomplishments when she became the first Wolverine woman student-athlete to be named an All-American in track and field as a junior and as senior she became the first-woman student-athlete at U-M to win a national individual title in track and field at the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) Championship. Or how she became only the fourth American woman to throw the discus 200 feet and, then at the age of 33, she qualified for the United State Olympic team and competed in the '92 Barcelona Summer Games.
Or even the fact she came to U-M from North Adams High School on a basketball scholarship, not a track and field scholarship.
It was none of that. Instead, she talked about walking from Varsity Diamond after a softball game against Ohio State over to the Ferry Field Outdoor Track to throw the discus in her full softball uniform with her stirrups and baseball pants. She also threw the shot put and the javelin that day and was named the Red Simmons Invitational MVP. She didn't even mention that!
Then she finally opened about her athletic accomplishments. By that time, I was getting big-eyed.
She reminisced about her time at Michigan, her experience at the Olympics and her family and their love for U-M. Her oldest daughter, McKenna, was a two-sport star at Hillsdale High School. She is now a sophomore at U-M and is a member of the Michigan Marching Band. Alana is a three-sport star going into her senior year at Hillsdale HS.
When we were ending of our conversation, the 2002 U-M Hall of Honor inductee brought out a discus. She told me how everyone in this certain Olympic event gets to keep their own discus after the competition. It has to be the same size and weight to ensure competitive fairness, and each Olympian then gets to keep that discus since it will not be used again.
She handed me the discus and showed me a number of different autographs on this particular lenticular disc. The first one I noticed was from former President George W. Bush (also pictured with former New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner).
Then I saw a few other names, including Red Simmons, Lloyd Carr and Brady Hoke. That's when Penny gave me a Sharpie pen and asked me if I would autograph the Olympic discus for her. I was honored.
Our conversation didn't last very long; in fact, it might have been five minutes max. But those five minutes reminded me that the University of Michigan does make a positive impact for the student-athlete for a long, long time.
Thank you Penny Neer, and thank you to the Glick Family, Alro Steel and especially Al Glick as we work together to keep Michigan as the Leaders and Best.