During the 19th Billie Jean King & Friends Gala, Cal State LA honored two outstanding student-athletes and recognized the contributions of three individuals who have left a lasting legacy.
A world champion athlete and global advocate for social justice, King has helped raise more than $3 million in scholarships for student-athletes through her gala. She opened the event at the Langham Huntington Hotel in Pasadena with a moving tribute to her former Cal State LA coach and longtime friend Joan Johnson, who passed away on Oct. 14.
“She was really a special human being,” King told the more than 500 people who filled the hotel ballroom on Oct. 22.
King, who won her first Wimbledon title while she was a player on the Cal State LA women’s tennis team, credited the University with providing a transformative experience. “It changed my life to be a student-athlete at Cal State LA,” she said.
Cal State LA President William A. Covino thanked King and fellow tennis great Rosie Casals for their unwavering support of the University’s student-athletes.
“With a great team of perennial supporters, Rosie and Billie have helped transform the lives of so many students, informed the ethic that drives the University to greatness, and shown us what our motto—pushing boundaries—really means,” Covino said.
From Left: George L. Pla, First Lady Debbie Covino, President William A. Covino, Billie Jean King, Executive Director for Athletics Daryl Gross, Steve Garvey and President Emeritus James M. Rosser.
George L. Pla, a successful entrepreneur and philanthropist whose business and civic activities have helped communities across California, was honored with the 2016 Joe Shapiro Humanitarian Award.
A Cal State LA alumnus, Pla is president, CEO and founder of Cordoba Corp., a nationally recognized civil engineering, program and construction management firm specializing in transportation, education, and water and energy infrastructure. Cordoba Corp. transported the Space Shuttle Endeavour through the streets of Los Angeles in 2012 as more than a million cheering bystanders watched the historic event.
Pla was introduced by Waters, who noted that he has dedicated his life to helping others. The Joe Shapiro Humanitarian Award is presented in memory of Joe Shapiro, who taught at Cal State LA and was known for working enthusiastically to help student-athletes reach their educational and athletic goals.
“I am honored to be mentioned in the same breath as Joe Shapiro,” Pla said as he accepted the award.
The University paid tribute to President Emeritus James M. Rosser, who directed the University for 34 years until his retirement in 2013. During the gala, it was announced that the University plans to name a building in Rosser’s honor.
Rosser credited students, faculty and staff for helping make Cal State LA a great institution and accepted his recognition on their behalf. “I stand here on the shoulders of Golden Eagles and Diablos,” he said.
Los Angeles Dodgers great Steve Garvey was honored with the L.A. Sports Legend Award. Garvey, a National League MVP and 10-time All-Star, is one of the most successful Major League Baseball players of all time. Playing first base, he was part of a stellar Dodgers infield and helped lead the team to a World Series title in 1981.
“I’ve been blessed,” Garvey said, adding that “the greatest gift is to give back.”
Khallifah Rosser, a liberal arts major and one of the top hurdlers in the nation, received the Billie Jean King Scholarship. Rosser, no relation to James M. Rosser, had an extraordinary junior season on Cal State LA’s men’s track and field team. He won the NCAA Division II Championship and qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore., where he narrowly missed advancing to the finals by two-hundredths of a second.
Psychology major Iris Raileanu received the Joe Shapiro Scholarship. In her junior season on the women’s tennis team, she posted one of the conference’s best singles records with a 15-5 overall mark, and picked up 12 victories in doubles. She earned Academic All-PacWest recognition for the second time and was honored with the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Scholar-Athlete Award.
“Thank you all for being here tonight, and for being part of the Cal State LA team,” Covino said. “With your support, we will continue to graduate future leaders who will transform our world.”