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Rickey, Robinson Bring Historic Legacy as OWU Commencement Speakers


January 29, 2004

[ Sharon Robinson Photo ] DELAWARE, OHIO -- "The Branch Rickey-Jackie Robinson relationship led to one of the most significant developments of social justice in our nation," said Ohio Wesleyan University President Tom Courtice as he and OWU's Senior Class President, Sualeha Ansari, announced OWU's Commencement 2004 speakers. Sharon Robinson -- writer, Major League Baseball educational consultant and daughter of baseball legend Jackie Robinson -- and Branch B. Rickey III -- OWU Class of 1967, President of the Pacific Coast League and grandson of Wesley Branch Rickey (OWU Class of 1904) -- will address OWU's Class of 2004 at Commencement on Sunday, May 9.

"For us to be able to recreate and remember this special relationship between Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson, and what it meant to society at this year's Commencement is as meaningful as it could be," says Courtice, adding that this is Rickey's centennial OWU graduation anniversary year. Best known for his signing of Jackie Robinson to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, thus integrating the long racially segregated game, the elder Rickey was recently honored by ESPN as the most influential sports figure of the 20th century.

"We were looking for Commencement speakers who had proven themselves in their fields and from whom we could learn something new," says Ansari. "My class has made a big impact on campus, and Sharon Robinson and Branch Rickey will encourage us to do even more after we leave OWU. Just as Branch Rickey changed baseball forever and for the better, so will members of my class do the same in their lives and communities."

Captivating readers with her memoir Stealing Home, Sharon Robinson wrote about what it was like growing up in the public eye, and her book Jackie's Nine described the nine hard-won values that helped her father achieve his goals throughout his life. Due out in February 2004 is Robinson's photographic biography for children, Promises to Keep: How Jackie Robinson Changed America.

In addition to her writing career, Robinson oversees school and community-based educational programs as part of her association with Major League Baseball. "Breaking Barriers in Sports, in Life" is the department's core educational program designed to empower students with strategies to help them face obstacles in their lives, while examining the lives of Jackie Robinson and many of today's baseball stars.

[ Branch Rickey III Photo ]Prior to her current position, Robinson had a 20-year career as a nurse-midwife and educator. She has taught at Yale, Columbia, Howard and Georgetown universities and has directed the Push for Excellence program founded by Rev. Jesse Jackson. She serves on the Board of Directors of the Jackie Robinson Foundation and the Roberto Clemente Sports City Complex in Carolina, Puerto Rico.

Robinson received her Bachelor's degree from Howard University and her Masters degree from Columbia University. She went on to receive a post-Masters Certificate in Teaching from the School of Nursing at the University of Pennsylvania and currently lives in St. Croix, Virgin Islands, with her son.

Branch B. Rickey has been President of the Pacific Coast League since 1997, when the Triple-A classification reorganized from three leagues into two. Prior to his involvement as a league president, Rickey spent more than 20 years in major league baseball with the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Cincinnati Reds as a scout, as an assistant scouting director and as a director of player development.

He began his professional career with the Pirates in 1963 at age 17 as business manager of their rookie league affiliate in the Appalachian League in Tennessee -- while pursuing his college degree at Ohio Wesleyan. After he graduated with a major in philosophy, Rickey volunteered with the Peace Corps in Venezuela, then worked as a campus recruiter -- also for the Peace Corps. He returned to professional baseball in 1972 as assistant director of the Kansas City Royals Baseball Academy in Sarasota, Florida, rejoining the Pirates in 1974.

While at OWU, Rickey played baseball and wrestled and was co-captain of the varsity soccer team. He has served on OWU's Alumni Board of Directors in recent years and lives in Colorado Springs with his wife, Diane.