UConn loses its first mom

It might be presumptuous, or at least provincial, to suggest that the catalyst for women's basketball's foray into homes across the country didn't begin until Rebecca Lobo chose UConn.

Sure, the game had been around for a while. But no team had ever captured the country's fancy until the Lobo Huskies. No player had ever become so distinctive, such a universal daughter.

It wasn't long after Rebecca said "I do" to UConn that the greater marriage commenced: The women of Storrs to their fans. Soon, Lobo's basketball talent and puckish sense of humor created a new face of the game, right there with her parents, Dennis and RuthAnn, who were front and center in the cameras' first crowd shot.

Fancy that: Dennis and RuthAnn were unwitting new celebrities in this developing sports allegory about the girls next door slaying the heathens.

RuthAnn Lobo became one of the game's first faces, the matriarch of women's basketball's de facto first family.

RuthAnn died Tuesday at 67 after a long bout with breast cancer.

RuthAnn, stricken with the disease nearly 20 years ago, took her fight public. She engendered immeasurable publicity for breast cancer awareness.

But what she did most was humanize a program that would develop the most maternal and paternal fans in sports. She was its first mom. It was her daughter that became everyone else's. This would become a program staple. Soon, the fans felt the same about Sue and Shea and Svet and on the band played.

You always felt like you knew RuthAnn. Even if you didn't. She was the familiar face in the crowd, the mom of this extraordinary player. And when you met her, you learned she was as sweet and comforting as you hoped.

RuthAnn was a retired school counselor at Granby Memorial Middle School. We'll hear tributes to her in the coming days from her family and notable figures in women's basketball. But nothing conveys RuthAnn better than what follows. This is a UConn fan's post on The Boneyard, an Internet fan forum:

"RuthAnn Lobo was my guidance counselor through middle school, and continued to be there for me during high school and even college. In short, Mrs. Lobo inspired my chosen path in life. In eighth grade, she came into my science class and taught us about Title IX. That knowledge fostered my interest in gender issues in sport, which ultimately helped me chose my major: Sport Media.

"Once I started college, that interest grew into an insatiable passion. I had the opportunity to work as an assistant on marketing research for the NBA and the WNBA. I also conducted individual research on gender bias in sport media and had the incredible opportunity to present it at the College Sport Research Institute Conference in Chapel Hill, N.C.

"Without RuthAnn Lobo, I never would have done any of that. Honestly, I don't know where I'd be or what I'd be doing. Today and for each day to come, I mourn her death and celebrate her life. She was truly a remarkable woman, with a smile that could brighten a room instantly. I will never forget her. Everything I do in the future is for her."

Too bad the post was anonymous, save a screen name. Bet the Lobo family would love to meet this person.

I didn't know RuthAnn other than a quick hello. But one of the great privileges for me in this business has been getting to know Rebecca, far and away the most important player in UConn history. Now she's a wife and mom, not to mention an ESPN star. But still the same as ever: approachable, funny, earnest, liked by absolutely everybody.

Rebecca has been an even better friend throughout this past year when I became a father for the first time. I treasure our talks over pregame meals before UConn and Sun games. We compare notes, trade kid stories.

Not hard to figure out where Rebecca learned it all.

Hosannas will rain on RuthAnn in the coming days for her tirelessness in raising awareness for breast cancer. I'd like to thank her for being there for all the kids at Granby Middle. And for producing such a wonderful daughter who is the very best of her mom.

RuthAnn showed us all how it's supposed to be done. At work and at home.

May she rest in peace.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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