From Bystander to Boss
Worcester Native Joann Flaminio Makes a Splash as First Female President of Boston Athletic Assocation
By Kim Dunbar
Joann Flaminio has come a long way since her days as a baseball bystander, watching her father coach and umpire little league games around Worcester.
“There were no sports leagues like that for girls when I was growing up, so I just watched from the sidelines,” she said. “I remember wanting to play sports. I wasn’t a terrific athlete, but I wanted to participate and be active and athletic.”
Now 56, Flaminio is on top of her game as the first female President of the Boston Athletic Association (B.A.A.).
Growing up on the cusp of the effects of Title IX ~ a federal law passed in 1972 that evened the playing field for women and men (see sidebar) ~ it wasn’t until Flaminio got to North High School that she was able to experience athletics firsthand.
“I did a little of everything ~ I played field hockey, basketball and tennis. That was the gamut at the time for female sports,” she recalled. “I earned my varsity letters, but by no means was I a star.”
Flaminio may not have excelled on the grass, but she certainly was an academic star. After graduating, she earned degrees from Tufts University and Suffolk University Law School. “I was the first kid in my family to graduate college,” she said, adding that her parents didn’t finish high school.
Throughout her college years, Flaminio remained active, but was focused on being successful and competing in the academic field rather than on the athletic ones. However, her love for sports was never very far from her mind. “My interests were in politics and government and sports, and I wanted to find a place where they intersected, a way they could interact with each other,” she said.
Flaminio found that intersection in international competitions, particularly the Olympics, realizing that they were a positive way to further international relations. In the early 1990s, she began volunteering to help with Boston’s bid to secure the summer Olympics. While the bid went nowhere, Flaminio’s career benefited. “A lot of folks involved in that were the same as those involved in the Boston Marathon,” she said.
The rest, Flaminio said, is history. She got involved doing press and volunteer work for the Boston Marathon and eventually became a member of the B.A.A. In 1996, she became only the third woman to join its Board of Governors. Fifteen years later, in January 2011, Flaminio became the 23rd, and first-ever female, President of the B.A.A. in the organization’s then 123-year history.
“I feel very honored and privileged,” she said of the historical accomplishment. “It’s a combination of hard work and persistence.”
It’s also the little place in history Flaminio had been looking for: “It is something I definitely wanted, to have my own little place and part in history, even if it is in a small way. I was never the greatest athlete, but I am proud to be the first woman in this position.”
The position of B.A.A. President is a volunteer position, one she works on in addition to her full time job as a Vice President at Fidelity Investments. Flaminio has had a robust career in the financial services and employee benefits field, currently focusing on retirement policy development.
Now well into her second year as B.A.A. President, a position she is elected to each year, Flaminio is still enjoying herself, describing the experience as “absolutely terrific.”
However, she admitted the position is much more demanding than being on the board. “There is a different set of responsibilities ~ as President you are directing and setting mission and policy,” Flaminio said.
According to Flaminio, the B.A.A. has been on a roll for the last decade, adding races like the popular half marathon as well as a 5K, 10K and this year, to commemorate the B.A.A.’s 125th anniversary, the inaugural Distance Medley Series, which gives runners the unique opportunity to participate in each of the these three races with the overall fastest runners taking home a $100,000 purse.
As President, Flaminio aims to build on this success, as well as to keep the B.A.A. in its current financial state, which she described as “in a good place.”
“We want to get back to our roots,” she said, referring to when the B.A.A. hosted a range of sports and activities in its own clubhouse. “We want to do more things throughout the year. Back in the old days the B.A.A. was a full service organization and we want to get back there.”
As President, Flaminio is taking advantage of what she calls a second running boom in the region, the first being when Bill Rodgers dominated the sport in the 1970s. This time, the boom is the result of young women flooding racecourses, the 13.1-mile distance in particular, as well as a wider age range of individuals hitting the pavement.
“After the award ceremony for the elite runners at the Boston Marathon, we give awards to male and female winners in different age brackets,” she explained.
“It is remarkable to see the interest in the sport among baby boomers and beyond. They are engaged, energetic, and some of them run in speedy times.”
While there is no scientific explanation as to why running has grown in popularity over the last several years, Flaminio has a theory. “I guess because all you really need is a pair of sneakers. Running is easier than some of the other sports like golf that are more expensive and require longer time commitment.”
Whether it’s running or another sport, being involved in physical activity is something Flaminio believes can help individuals move through life in a successful way. “There is nothing better than athletics,” she said. “Whether you go on to play professionally or not, sports teaches dedication, commitment, and perseverance. These qualities will find you in good stead in your professional and personal life. It helps you became a more successful person.”
Flaminio’s best advice is to try anything, because “You can’t finish if you don’t start.” She added that so many times people don’t start doing things because they don’t think they have the correct body or tools. “It’s a mistake,” she warned.
For those who feel too intimidated to get involved, Flaminio suggested simply signing up for a 5K. “There is great information online to help you put together a training schedule.”
Flaminio herself is a self-described recreational runner and participates in 5Ks, but when it comes to the Boston Marathon, she’s watching from the sidelines. This time, it’s by choice ~ she enjoys the race as the first woman to ever run the event on the leadership side. Indeed, Joann Flaminio has come a long way.
Top Left: Joann holding the tape at the Finish Line of the 2011 Boston Marathon. The winner, Geoffrey Mutai, ran the fastest marathon ever recorded. His time was 2:03:02. Because of certain IAAF (International Association of Athletic Federation) technicalities, it is considered the “world’s best” marathon, not the world record.
Middle Right: Joann speaking at a BAA event.
Bottom Left: The BAA Half-Marathon takes place on Columbus Day Weekend each year. It travels through the Emerald Necklace and the Franklin Park Zoo.
Happy Birthday, title IX!
By Kim Dunbar
Picture a world without Jackie Joyner-Kersee. Without Mia Hamm. Without Venus or Serena Williams. Without the WNBA.
Thanks to Title IX, you never had to.
On June 23, 1972, President Richard M. Nixon changed the face of sports forever when he signed the historic law calling for equality between women and men ~ both academically and athletically.
“Without a doubt, Title IX has given women athletes a chance to be on center stage more than ever existed before,” said Joann Flaminio, President of the Boston Athletic Association (B.A.A.). “Without it, we’d still be second class citizens when it comes to sports.”
The federal law reads: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
According the Women’s Sports Foundation, since Title IX was instituted in 1972, female participation in high school sports has increased by more than 900 percent.
Flaminio can see the difference it has made in the sport of running. “In 1972, eight women [often referred to as the “Class of 1972”] ran the Boston Marathon. This year, women make up 53 percent of the total number of finishers nationwide,” she said, adding that women between the ages of 20-35 years old have taken over the half marathon races.
As part of the 40th anniversary of Title IX, the B.A.A. brought back the original female entrants from that historic Boston Marathon. “It was a privilege to share the stage with them and hear their stories,” said Flaminio.
“We run a lot of events these days and you can go online, pay money and you are signed up,” said Flaminio. “It’s hard to believe that a generation ago that opportunity didn’t exist for women. Women are now accepted as athletes and runners.”
After 40 years, Title IX still has its critics who cite that the law has an adverse effect on men’s sports by taking away funding from their programs. Others claim there’s no longer a need for it. Flaminio disagrees.
“Women’s sports have come a long way and we still have a long way to go,” she said. “I’m a promoter of sports and love sports in any way but most of athletic conversation is around men. We still need to continue to make strides.”
Here’s to the next 40 years.