Courtesy of Ed Hill, Jr. of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference:
More and more women are playing important roles in the world of sports as broadcasters and media professionals. But few are aware of the role that Maxine Lewis has played in this turn of events.
You have to go back to 1973, when Lewis took a position in the Delaware State University Department of Public Relations, which she parlayed into a position as the first full-time sports information director not just in school history, but also among HBCUs.
In 1979, she was named to the position.
“I had been around sports all my life,” Lewis, a former cheerleader, said. “It was not easy at first. Many of the athletes and coaches wondered who I was and what was I doing. Obviously, it was a rarity to see women in a male-dominated profession. I wanted to ensure that I was not just another pretty face, but someone they would grow to respect.”
Through hard work and some valuable advice and guidance from male colleagues — the late Chris Fisher from North Carolina Central, Bill Hamilton, the retired legendary sports information director from South Carolina State, and Larry Barber, retired Director of Media Relations for the MEAC — Lewis was able to establish her identity.
Later, Lewis, on the advice of her colleagues, got involved in the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA), now known as College Sports Communicators.
“I became a self-promoter,” she said. “I served on or headed up several committees at the workshops. I got my name on everything. After a while, slowly but surely, I got the same respect as my male counterparts.”
Lewis served for 11 years as the SID at Delaware State. Then in 1989, she was sought out by ABC Sports, which was the go-to sports network at the time. But she had to prove herself all over again.
“Initially, there were four candidates for the position. I was the only Black. They narrowed it down and offered me the position. They kept another girl just in case It did not pan out with me. There were probably some reservations on whether I would be able to make it.”
Never one to be cowed down by challenges, Lewis embraced the opportunity. But it did not come without some hurdles.
Her daily commute from Dover, Del., to New York took over three hours, as she had to get up at 4 a.m. each day. The trip entailed a train from Wilmington, Del., to New York and then a subway to ABC headquarters.
“It was certainly a challenge,” Lewis admitted. “But I was determined to make it work. I was not only representing myself, but Delaware State and Black women.”
What made it even more noteworthy was that Lewis was both a mother and wife. In fact, she shares an interesting story.
“I rode the train so much that I thought of naming my second child Amtrak,” she said with a laugh. “I actually went into labor with my second child once during the commute back home and the conductor told me that I could not ride because I did not have a ticket. I told him I was in labor and that I was going to ride.”
With the demanding schedule, Lewis worked at ABC Sports for 16 and a half years. Changes took place at the network and it partnered with ESPN, which was located in Bristol, Conn. Lewis decided it was too much to commute, so she accepted a buyout.
Following a break from the grueling demands, the ambitious and tireless Lewis regrouped and embarked on a new adventure.
“When I was commuting to New York, I noticed people who were always trying to sell me something,” Lewis said, “so I decided to open my own business, Maxine’s Fashions.”
She later partnered with two other women and formed three separate businesses into one.
But she did not stop there. Lewis later opened a nail salon, which she manages.
Oh, by the way, she still finds time to watch her two grandchildren and serve as caretaker for her 90-year-old mother.
When asked about how she views herself as a pioneer, she said, “I did not really think about it that much until I was inducted into the Delaware State Hall of Fame and [current Delaware State Assistant Athletic Director/Director of Media Relations for Athletics] Dennis Jones was reading my bio. I said to myself, ‘He is talking about me.’ That is when it dawned on me.”
“We are so very proud of Maxine and what she contributed to athletics and sports information here at Delaware State,” Jones, who has been SID for almost 30 years, said. “She set a standard and created a legacy.”
Things have changed in the culture of sports. Lewis shared her thoughts on that change.
“When I think about women being commissioners of conferences, reporters, broadcasters and all the other roles in sports, I find that it is amazing,” she said. “I never thought that I would see this in my lifetime. It is unbelievable.”
So is Maxine Lewis, the pioneer.
And what would she offer young Black women interested in the profession?
“I am a firm believer that hard work helps achieve goals,” she said. “I always say: practice does not make you perfect, but it puts you where you want to be.”