Women’s Sports Pioneer: Chelsea Native Lee-Nieves Receives MIAA Distinguished Service Award

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.

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.

CUTLINE

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.

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Women’s Sports Pioneer: Chelsea Native Lee-Nieves Receives MIAA Distinguished Service Award

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