Championing the Champions: Inspiring Duke Women’s Athletics Through Philanthropy

Championing the Champions: Inspiring Duke Women’s Athletics Through Philanthropy

Excitement filled the air as the final innings of the 2024 ACC Softball Championship unfolded Saturday afternoon at Duke Softball Stadium. The No. 1 seed Duke Blue Devils and No. 2 seed Florida State Seminoles were locked in a back-and-forth battle with the Seminoles leading 3-2 in the sixth. With runners on first and second and just one out, the crack of junior Ana Gold’s bat echoed through the stadium as the ball was tattooed up the middle for an easy single! The game-tying run crossed the plate and the entire Blue Devil dugout was on their feet, hands in the air, cheering on their teammates

That energy shift was all it took for the Blue Devils to lay it on as three more runners crossed home plate that inning, sending them one step closer to their second ACC Championship title in program history. Sophomore pitcher Cassidy Curd closed the door in the seventh as one-by-one she retired the Seminoles. The final out came off a hit sent directly back towards Curd, who made the routine throw to first as the Blue Devils mobbed the pitcher’s circle with screams of excitement. Fans proclaimed “Let’s – Go – Duke! Let’s – Go – Duke!” from across the stadium while images of smiles and the ACC Championship trophy flashed across the brand-new video board in center field.

This frenzied atmosphere is exactly what Duke softball head coach Marissa Young, Director of Athletics Nina King, and a couple of generous benefactors had in mind last year when the plans were first discussed to add a video display board to Duke Softball Stadium. The stadium, built in 2017 following the successful Duke Athletics Building Champions Campaign, quickly became the beloved home of the Blue Devils’ newest varsity program, solidifying Duke’s commitment to supporting women’s athletics at the highest level.

As support for women’s athletics has continued to flourish, so has Duke Softball. In seven short years as a varsity program, Duke has built a reputation as one of the country’s top softball programs and finished the 2024 regular season ranked fifth nationally.


“We are creating the winning history,” said senior catcher Kelly Torres. “Normalizing this young program as a Top 10 team.” 

When it became clear last season that Duke would consistently contend for championships, the next step emerged: to ensure that Duke Softball Stadium was fully equipped to deliver the ultimate game-day experience for both the team and its expanding fan base during these postseason moments.

That is where a few incredible donors, including Sue Gordon, T’80 and former women’s basketball captain, and her late husband, Jim, stepped in to help provide the state-of-the-art video board erected in centerfield. At almost 17 feet high and 32 feet wide, the LED video display boasts instant replay, live video and graphic capabilities, along with providing stats, in-game experience enhancements and more. Debuted this past weekend at the first-ever ACC Softball Championship hosted by Duke, the video board provided team introductions, hype videos, in-game feeds, and a plethora of stats throughout the tournament, all while showing how truly special Duke softball is.

On her decision to support this unique project, Sue said, “We gave to the scoreboard project because this still-new program inspires me and represents all that we think is good in college sports — commitment to excellence, shared quest, love of the game and obvious devotion to team over self. I simply love watching them play. Marissa embodies, attracts, and teaches these attributes, meaning she’s building a culture that can persist.”

Championing women’s athletics has been a priority for Duke since 1972, when field hockey was added as the first varsity women’s sport. Since then, 12 more sports have been added, with softball officially joining the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2017. For two lead donors to this project, who also happen to be females, providing opportunities for female student-athletes to experience and thrive in a fully supported environment means everything.

“Honestly, I am so committed to supporting Duke women’s athletics because I know what being a competitive athlete has meant to me over the course of my life and career, and because I know that supporting these young women helps enable and inspire their futures,” Sue added.

The ongoing generosity of Iron Dukes donors enables Duke Athletics to offer comprehensive educational and athletic opportunities, benefiting not only the women’s athletics programs, but also every student-athlete who proudly dons a Duke Blue uniform. Contributions to the Duke Athletics Iron Dukes Annual Fund support scholarships for more than 450 student-athletes annually, while major gift donations, like those that supported the softball video board project, further enhance the resources essential for delivering a world-class experience to all Blue Devils. With the ever-changing landscape of collegiate athletics, philanthropic support for Olympic sports, and especially for female sports, is more critical than ever.


“Thank you so much for your gifts and for making our scoreboard possible. Without you guys, we wouldn’t be where we are today. We are beyond grateful.” -The 2024 Duke Softball Team


Meanwhile on Saturday afternoon, while jubilant fans trickled out of the stadium, a final image illuminated the high-definition screen – 19 elated young women, 10 smiling staff members and one big shining championship trophy. Just like they scripted it a little over a year ago.



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The Iron Dukes is the fundraising arm for Duke Athletics, providing an opportunity for alumni, family, and friends to support Duke Athletics. Iron Dukes members help provide much-needed resources to fund student-athlete scholarships, facility improvements, and operational budgets for Duke’s 27 varsity sports.

The mission of the Iron Dukes is to help provide the resources necessary to enrich the lives of Duke student-athletes as they strive to be champions in the classroom and at the highest level of athletic competition while preparing them to be champions in life by engaging the mind, elevating the spirit, and stimulating the best effort for all.

Together we can continue to honor our proud winning tradition of the past as we build great Blue Devil teams for the future. Help us strengthen the heart of one of the premier academic and athletic institutions in the country. Click here to make your impact today. 


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