'Passion to Play' is labor of love for ABC's women

ON THE AIR

October 06, 1994|By MILTON KENT

Just the other day, Donna de Varona refereed a debate on Title IX, the landmark federal legislation that mandates equal educational gender access, in her own bedroom.

De Varona, an ABC Sports commentator, was chatting with her 6-year-old son, John David, and her 5-year-old daughter, Joanna, about John David's upcoming soccer game and whether Joanna could play for the opposing team.

"John David said, 'I don't think she should be able to play, and I said, 'Joanna should absolutely be able to play if she wants to,' " said de Varona. "So I said to her, 'If you want to play, Joanna, we'll go out in the backyard and play.' "

The opportunity for women to participate and reap the benefits of athletics is at the core of "A Passion to Play: Stories of Women in Sports," a one-hour special airing Sunday at 4 p.m. (Channel 13) that de Varona co-produced.

The special, which features contributions from ABC horse racing analyst Charlsie Cantey, ESPN's Robin Roberts and Lesley Visser, as well as former Olympic medalists Cynthia Potter and Kathy Johnson, is the first network effort on women's sports since de Varona and Billie Jean King anchored "The Lady is a Champ" for ABC in 1974.

"It [the special] is a dream come true. We've gone even further than we did 20 years ago," said de Varona. "We're trying to do a lot with just an hour. I do predict, however, this will not be a one-shot deal and it won't take 20 more years."

Among the topics addressed in "A Passion to Play" are opportunities for female athletes after college, eating disorders among women athletes and women who broke barriers.

It would have been nice if ABC had found a better time slot and promoted the special more than it has, but give the network credit for putting the kind of womanpower it has into this most important effort.

Head-scratcher

The Channel 13 approach to covering sports admittedly is aimed at a different audience than the usual sports viewer, and all the ratings data indicate that it works.

That said, can anyone explain why Channel 2's Scott Garceau was interviewing Davey Johnson, a leading candidate to fill the Orioles' managerial post, live at 5 p.m. yesterday, while, at the same time, Channel 13, the Orioles' rights holder, was showing pro football footage that was two or three days old?

Granted, John Buren did have a taped interview with Johnson, and he did address a rumor out of Cincinnati that Johnson had been offered the job, but the technology, not to mention the opportunity, was available to let Buren do some live questioning.

College weekend

Channel 13's Saturday college football doubleheader features Notre Dame at Boston College at noon and Illinois at Ohio State at 3:30 p.m., and don't forget the Florida State-Miami epic on ESPN at 7:30.

However, the more interesting viewing could be on ESPN2, where Texas Southern and Alcorn State clash at 1 p.m., giving a national audience its first extended look at Alcorn QB Steve McNair, a bona fide Heisman Trophy candidate.

Filling time

How would you like to be a Home Team Sports executive these days?

The cornerstones of your programming schedule are Orioles, Bullets and Capitals contests, two of the teams are out on labor disputes and the third could join them in November. Nice luck, eh?

The channel you cheer for will replace this weekend's Caps' encounters with a live International Hockey League game between the Houston Aeros and the Atlanta Knights at 8 p.m. tomorrow and the Southern Cal-Oregon State football game Saturday at 6:30 p.m.

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