When the Title IX law was first enacted, leading to increased athletic opportunities for females in the mid-to-late 1970s and setting the foundation for the explosion of high school girls’ sports that exists today, there was a Chelsea woman just getting started in coaching.
She was a pioneer in every sense, introducing the joy of organized sports participation to Boston girls, teaching them about teamwork and sportsmanship, instilling self-confidence in her student-athletes, and providing lessons about life that they would carry beyond the basketball court.
JoAnne Lee-Nieves was a woman ahead of her time, recognizing right away the importance of athletics for girls as an extension of the classroom. Her players at Jeremiah Burke would achieve phenomenal success on the court. Long before ESPN started bringing attention to women’s sports, Lee-Nieves was building a program and sending her athletes on to college.
For four decades, Lee-Nieves earned multiple championship and coach-of-the-year awards. No one did it better in Boston than Lee-Nieves.
Last Friday, in an impressive ceremony at historic Faneuil Hall in the city where Lee-Nieves became a high school coaching giant, she received one of the MIAA’s most prestigious awards.
Before a capacity crowd of female high school athletes, athletic directors and many of her former colleagues in the profession, Lee-Nieves accepted the Massachusetts Women in Athletics Distinguished Service Award.
One could only imagine how very proud her parents, the late Charles Lee and Jeanette Weiner Lee, would have been to see JoAnne’s amazing career recognized so deservedly in such an awesome setting as Fanueil Hall.
Councillor-at-Large Leo Robinson understands the magnitude of his cousin JoAnne’s statewide award and the immense contributions that she made to high school sports. His own daughter, Lucia Robinson-Griggs, is a former high school athlete and now a women’s basketball coach at MIT.
“JoAnne is a very outstanding individual who has achieved a lot in teaching and coaching,” said Robinson. “This is very special for me that she was recognized for all the hard work that she has done throughout the years. She is a true pioneer in women’s high school sports in Boston. It’s a tremendous honor and I congratulate Joanne. We in Chelsea are all proud of her.”
In a tribute to JoAnne that appeared in the Girls and Women In Sports Day souvenir booklet, Jeremiah Burke Guidance Counselor Ron Innes said, “JoAnne was a very reliable and dedicated teacher who was well respected by her students as well as faculty and staff. Her knowledge about her chosen discipline (Physical Education) and ability to reach and connect with students made her a truly exceptional teacher. These great qualities carried over to the many sports she coached. Her teams always played the game with great discipline and pride.”
Burke Athletic Coordinator Sean Ryan had nominated Lee-Nieves for the award. Said Ryan, “Her ability to engage a veteran or a newcomer to the sport make her special. We evaluate a coach by how their team progresses during the year, and JoAnne’s team each year plays their best toward the end of the season. She truly provides each student-athlete with a memorable experience.”
In her acceptance speech, Lee-Nieves was humble and gracious. She thanked the MIAA for the recognition, but focused her remarks on encouraging the young ladies in the audience to work hard and pursue their dreams.
As she left the stage and walked to the VIP area where she and husband Juan Nieves were seated, you could sense that JoAnne Lee-Nieves was touched by this lifetime-achievement recognition from the state’s official governing organization for high school sports.
It was indeed a special day for a special teacher, coach, and role model.
Johanna DiCarlo (right) presents the Massachusetts Women in Athletics Distinguished Service Award to JoAnne Lee-Nieves at the 2019 Girls and Women in Sports Day program Feb. 1 at Faneuil Hall, Boston. JoAnne Lee-Nieves and her husband, Juan Nieves, are pictured following the presentation of the Distinguished Service Award.