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Blazejowski, Carol Ann

BLAZEJOWSKI, Carol Ann

(b. 29 September 1956 in Elizabeth, New Jersey), basketball player known for her jump shot and the General Manager for the New York Liberty, one of the original professional teams of the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA).

During a time when parents usually held their children to strict stereotypical roles, Leon and Grace Blazejowski encouraged their daughter to play sports. By age ten Blazejowski was regularly playing basketball against neighborhood boys. Her hardworking blue-collar parents always knew where they could find their daughter—on the courts. Blazejowski did not play organized basketball until her senior year at Cranford High School, which she attended from 1970 to 1974. She served as team captain and averaged twenty-five points a game, and was primarily known for her classic jump shot, usually taken from fifteen feet. However, Blazejowski's dynamic senior year and incredible shooting ability did not earn her one of the few athletic scholarships offered to women in 1975. Blazejowski chose to attend Montclair State College in Upper Montclair, New Jersey, and to pay her own way.

As a five foot, ten inch forward Blazejowski, nicknamed "the Blaze," accumulated an incredible 3,199 points during her college career, more than any other college basketball player, male or female, at the time. The three-time All American (1976, 1977, and 1978) led the nation in scoring with 33.5 points per game her junior year and 38.6 points per game her senior year. Blazejowski also led the Montclair Squaws in rebounds and steals, and had an 87.3 free throw percentage. During college she participated in the World University Games and was named Converse Women's Player of the Year in 1977. The following year Blazejowski helped her team advance to the national semi-finals.

Blazejowski had her sights set on making the U.S. Olympic Team in 1976 but was cut in the final rounds of tryouts. When she asked why, she was told her defense was weak. Blazejowski and Montclair coach Maureen Wendelken took the criticism hard. Blazejowski would later play the team of the coach who kept her from making the Olympic team when Montclair traveled to California in 1978 to compete against the University of California, Los Angeles, in the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) Final Four. However, although Blazejowski scored 38 points, Montclair lost 85–77.

Blazejowski's most memorable game was against Queens College (of Queens, New York) in 1977. The game was played at Madison Square Garden in front of 12,000 spectators. Blazejowski had a sub par first half, scoring only fourteen points and accumulating three fouls. When Blazejowski picked up her fourth foul in the first few minutes of the second half, coach Wendelken kept her in the game but instructed her to only take jump shots. Blazejowski then went on to score 38 points for a record-setting total of 52 points, allowing Montclair to win the game with a score of 102–94.

As team captain, Blazejowski was the Montclair Squaws' emotional leader. She led by example, often pushing players through practice and encouraging them to run or shoot afterwards. No one worked harder on improving her game than Blazejowski. She ended her college career by winning the first Wade Trophy, which Blazejowski said was one of the her proudest moments. The award recognized the nation's women's collegiate basketball player of the year. Blazejowski was also an honor graduate, having earned a 3.6 grade point average from Montclair's physical education program.

After graduation in 1978, Blazejowski refused to turn professional, although the New Jersey Gems took her in the first round of the Women's Basketball League (WBL) draft, because she still had Olympic dreams. Between graduation and the 1980 Olympic tryouts, Blazejowski enrolled in graduate school at Montclair in the physical education department and continued to train and practice. She played internationally on the gold medal-winning 1979 World University Team, and the silver medal-winning 1979 Pan American Team, as well as for the national amateur Crestettes from Allentown, Pennsylvania. However, remaining an amateur also meant she was required to turn down every potentially lucrative endorsement she was offered.

Blazejowski was finally selected for the 1980 Olympic team. The team won the prequalifying tournament in Bulgaria, but did not compete in the Olympics. A U.S. boycott imposed by President Jimmy Carter, protesting the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, prevented any of the U.S. teams from traveling to Moscow.

Giving up on her Olympic dreams, Blazejowski accepted a three-year contract for $150,000 with the New Jersey Gems later in 1980, and became the highest paid player in the Womens Basketball League (WBL). Unfortunately, the league went bankrupt in 1981, but Blazejowski made her mark during her one season with the Gems. She was the WBL's leading scorer and most valuable player, and was selected to play on the All-Star team.

With the folding of the WBL, Blazejowski's playing options were exhausted. However, she remained involved in sports by working with the sporting-goods company Adidas to develop and implement marketing programs aimed at women's sports. Blazejowski left Adidas after ten years to join the National Basketball Association (NBA) as Director of Licensing (1990 to 1995) and then as Director of Women's Basketball Programs (1996).

When the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) was formed in 1996, Blazejowski was named Director of Basketball Development. She spent only one year in that position before becoming the General Manager and vice president of the New York Liberty basketball team in 1997, where one of her main responsibilities included choosing players. The Liberty's back-to-back Conference Championships and three WNBA Finals appearances have attested to Blazejowski's ability to assemble a winning team.

In recognition of her contribution to basketball, Blazejowski was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1994, one of only thirteen women to receive that honor. Blazejowski was among the twenty-six honorees inducted into the inaugural class of the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999.

In May 1999 Blazejowski made history again when the Liberty media guide included the information that Blazejowski lived with her partner, Joyce, and their two children. The Liberty players were not told in advance about Blazejowski's biography, to them it simply did not matter.

Blazejowski's contribution to basketball and women's sport has been lasting and significant. Recognized as the best women's basketball player of her day, Blazejowski demonstrated that women could not only keep pace with men on the court, but also in the executive conference room.

Most information on Carol Blazejowski comes from current WNBA material and media coverage of her college career. Two particularly important articles are "Carol Blazejowski: Pro in an Amateur World," Women's Sports 1, no. 1 (1979), which covers her struggles as an amateur from 1978 to 1980; and "Profile: Carol Blazejowski," Coaching Women ' s Athletics (Jan./Feb. 1979), by Montclair head coach Maureen Wendelken, which discusses Blazejowski's importance to the team and what it was like to coach her.

Lisa A. Ennis

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