Nebraska softball and track & field letterwinner Denise Day is pictured 6th from left in the second row above.
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Day Explains Why Husker Fans in a League of Their Own

By Randy York

Schonewise: Huskers Reminiscent of 1986 Final Four Team

Denise Day (1982-85) is so much more than what her bio says she is. She's a woman who was Nebraska’s first All-America softball player and first two-time Academic All-American before earning the definitive capstone – the Honda Award recognizing the NCAA’s most prestigious individual honor.

The highlight of Day’s life as a Husker was playing in the 1985 National Championship softball game and losing to UCLA, 3-2, in extra innings. “We came so close to a national championship,” she said. “I think I can still remember every pitch thrown and quite frankly, I'm not sure I'm still over it.”

Day chuckles at her own comedy because she separates the impact that competition provides.

“I often tell the story of when I came back for an Academic All-American celebration (in 1998) when Nebraska was hosting Texas,” Day told me. “Ricky Williams (Texas’ Heisman Trophy winner) ran all over Nebraska that day and we lost a great game (20-16). However, when Ricky left the field, Nebraska’s fans gave him a standing ovation. To me, that’s how fans should react and that’s the perspective we all should have – enjoy the competition!”

Losing a National Championship Game in Extra Innings Was Still Day's Career Highlight

Denise has a positively remarkable habit of shining light when others might see darkness. Losing a national championship game in extra innings was still Day’s favorite highlight. “It was great to experience with my teammates after all the hard work we had put in and all the wonderful memories we made through the sport,” said Day, a Nebraska graduate who represented Team USA in the World Softball Championships and the Pan-Am Games. 

“Our USA team won gold in both of those competitions but if I had to pick one championship to win, it still would have been the NCAA Division 1 title with the friends and teammates I trained with for so many fun years,” Day said. “I hope that the women who play today have an appreciation for the teams who played before them,” Day said. “I know that I would never have had the opportunities I had if it weren't for the pioneers before me. They blazed the path, not me.  To see women's athletics elevated to the level it is today is very exciting. Nebraska’s softball facilities are first class and the student-athletes are given every resource possible to help them succeed.”

Day seizes a quick opportunity for creative humor. “Today’s Nebraska athletes never had to run in Mushroom Garden under Memorial Stadium like we did,” she says before adding that  “Husker athletics has a history of excellence both on the field and in the classroom, and I'm proud to see that tradition continue as I follow the softball team and other teams as they compete at the highest level and continue to graduate student-athletes who are ready to excel in life.”

Road to a Nebraska Scholarship Required Day’s Family to Pay for a Trip to Visit Lincoln

When Day thinks about memorable life lessons, they remind the Pennsylvania native about how she ended up in Lincoln and the odds that went with it. 

“If it wasn't for a special high school teacher, I may never have had the opportunity to attend college,” Day said. “Bill Byham took an interest in me and saw my athletic abilities as a way to get an education. My family was blue collar and without a scholarship, I was probably staying home.”

Byham suggested that Day put together a package of sports’ clippings, grades, and letters of recommendations and then send the bundle to 10 universities that had scholarship money available for women's athletics. Day used a scholarship guide from a women’s sports magazine to shoot for the stars.

Nebraska softball coach Nancy Plantz was the first to contact Day and ask her to fly from Pennsylvania to Lincoln for a tryout, a permissible invitation in that era. Day’s dad said no because the family couldn't afford a plane ticket. The next morning, however, he said he'd “make it happen so I could never say he didn't give me the opportunity to see if I had what it takes,” Day said. “The rest is history. The life lesson is to pay forward and make it a priority to help others every chance I have. You never know the difference you can make in someone’s life.”

Small wonder why Day is President and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Brandywine in West Chester, Pa., and lives in Kennett Square, Pa., 40 minutes from Philadelphia. “I’ve worked for the YMCA for 32 years, starting in Lincoln right after graduation,” she said. “We serve nearly 80,000 members at our eight branches. I love the Y's Mission to strengthen the foundations of community through youth development, healthy living, and social responsibility.”

Daughters Maddie and Ellie Will Understand Why There Really Is NO Place Like Nebraska

Day will be attending the induction ceremony with her two daughters, Maddie (17, right) and Ellie (15, left). “I’m excited to see so many friends, former players and former co-workers who will be sharing the weekend with me as well,” she said. “I am honored beyond words to be inducted into the third class of the Hall of Fame."

“There are so many world-class athletes who have competed for Nebraska and to be included in that group is humbling," Day said. "I'm especially excited to show my girls the campus and have them experience Lincoln and see that there really is NO place like Nebraska. I've always marveled how friendly people in Nebraska are and the true love of sports they display through their sportsmanship and appreciation for exceptional performances.” 

Day embraced experiences with her teammates “after all the hard work we put in and all the wonderful memories we made through the sport,” she said. “Husker Athletics has a history of excellence on the field and in the classroom. I’m proud to see that tradition continue as I follow the softball team and other Husker teams as they compete at the highest level and continue to graduate student-athletes equipped and ready to excel in life.”

That includes Denise Day, who also became a varsity letterwinner in Nebraska Women's Track & Field in 1986. As a senior, she finished second in the javelin to help the Huskers win a Big Eight Conference Outdoor Championship. The performance qualified Day to compete in the NCAA Championships, but the logistics were difficult so she passed on the opportunity. "It was my only competition in track & field in college," she told me. "It was one of those rare opportunities, so I'm glad I did it."

Send a comment to ryork@huskers.com (Please include city, state)

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