Sandra Ortiz-Del Valle had dreamed of becoming a referee in the National Basketball Association, but she never got any closer than officiating a few preseason scrimmages for the New Jersey Nets. Convinced that she was a victim of sex discrimination, she sued the league.
25 years ago after amazing perserverance a Federal jury in Manhattan agreed, finding that the league had denied her a job because she was a woman and awarding her $7.85 million in damages.
Ortiz-Del Valle, taught physical education and coached basketball at Humanities High School on West 18th Street in Manhattan, before retirement.
Ortiz-Del Valle’s lawyers introduced documents that showed that the N.B.A. had given her high marks as a referee. One such document, a scouting report to Darell Garretson, the chief of the league’s officiating staff, from Aaron C. Wade, another league official, described Ortiz-Del Valle as being in good physical condition, having ”excellent basketball officiating skills” and being ”very knowledgeable about rules.” Wade continued: ”I would not hesitate to recommend that at sometime in the near future she be considered to enter our training program.”
Ortiz Del-Valle, who now lives in Hillside, N.J., graduated from Bronx High School of Science and City College of New York, where she played forward and center on the women’s basketball team.
She had all the qualifications to be an N.B.A. referee, including officiating in top men’s amateur and professional basketball leagues for 17 years. She was a regular at the Rucker Tournament in Harlem. In fact, in 1991 she worked a United States Basketball League game and became the first woman in history to officiate a men’s professional basketball game. The uniform and whistle she used in the game are on exhibit at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.
She also officiated in men’s leagues on the Jersey Shore, in Westchester County and in the New York Pro-Am league.
But N.B.A. officials kept setting up new obstacles to hiring her, she said. She filed a complaint with the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 1995 and sued the league the next year.
Sandy made history and set a precedent for qualified women to be hired as referees in the NBA and other professional and amateur leagues around the world!
I am proud and honored to nominate Sandy for a place in the Bronx Basketball Hall of Fame!