Violet Palmer and Chris Wondolowski Named to 40th Anniversary Tribute Team

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - Cal Poly Pomona's Violet Palmer and Chico State's Chris Wondolowski have both been named to the division II 40th Anniversary Tribute Team, it was announced Friday.

Cal Poly Pomona alum Violet Palmer broke a major glass ceiling in sports in 1997 when she became the first woman to officiate in the NBA, as well as the first female official in any major U.S. professional sport.

In celebration of the 40th Anniversary of NCAA Division II, Palmer is one of 48 former student-athletes set to be honored by the NCAA throughout 2013.

"I'm very humbled by this award and very appreciative of being included in such a special group," Palmer said. "My time at Cal Poly Pomona was very special and the experiences I shared with my teammates and classmates were some of the best times of my life. The label of a certain division, whether it be I, II or II, didn't matter to us because we just wanted to be the best."

While Palmer's entrance into the NBA drew the rancor of several players and coaches, Palmer's performance and professionalism quickly won over even her most vitriolic opponents. Fifteen years later, she's a league veteran with a growing number of playoff games under her belt. 

Palmer grew up in a sports-loving family in the Compton section of Los Angeles. Her basketball career began at Compton High, where she was a star point guard.

She attended Cal Poly Pomona on a sports scholarship and helped lead her team to two NCAA Division II national championships in 1985 and 1986. After college, she worked as a recreation director for the city of Los Angeles and began refereeing on the side, starting with high school girls' games and working her way up to the NCAA women's Division I.

Palmer spent nine seasons as one of the top women's collegiate basketball officials. She officiated five NCAA Women's Final Fours and two Women's National Championship games during her tenure. She was recruited to the NBA's referee training program in 1995 and began officiating NBA pre-season and exhibition games before getting her first shot the regular season in 1997.

In 2006, she became the first woman to officiate an NBA playoff game, an assignment reserved for the top-performing referees, and in 2009, she officiated in the NBA finals.

Aside from Palmer, the other former student-athlete representing the California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) is Chris Wondolowski, former alum of the Chico State men's soccer team.

Wondolowski is one of 48 former student-athletes named to the NCAA Division II 40th Anniversary Tribute Team.

Wondolowski led the Wildcats to the 2003 NCAA Championship match and ranks among the school’s career leaders in goals, assists and points.

But it’s what he’s accomplished since being drafted 41st in the 2005 Major League Soccer Supplemental Draft that is truly remarkable. Wondolowski was named the MVP of MLS last season. He joins 1977 NFL MVP Walter Payton (who played at then-Division II Jackson State), 1982 American League Cy Young Award winner Pete Vukovich (Clarion), and Arena Football League Iron Man Award winners Kevin Ingram (West Chester) and Greg Hopkins (Slippery Rock) on the very short list of Division II athletes to win major awards in a major sports league.

Wondolowski has led MLS in goals in each of the past three seasons, winning a pair of Golden Boot honors, and was a runaway winner of the league MVP award last season after tying the MLS record with 27 tallies.
Wondo's goal haul helped San Jose claim the 2012 MLS Supporters' Shield with the best regular-season record in MLS and also landed the Chico State product an unprecedented four MLS Player of the Month awards.

“This group of former student-athletes is meant to reflect the core values of Division II athletics,” said Josh Looney, associate director of Division II. “Commissioners have helped identify a diverse group of championship individuals from Division II’s 40-year history. Not only did these former student-athletes act as champions in athletics and in the classroom, they’ve gone on to live championship lives as well.

“This group is a true representation of Division II’s commitment to providing its student-athletes a ‘Life in the Balance’ that extends beyond athletics.”

Division II gained its own unique intercollegiate athletics identity when Divisions I, II and III were formalized during a special NCAA Convention held in 1973.  Prior to 1973, the NCAA was organized into two divisions––“University” and “College.”

The year-long D-II 40th Anniversary celebration will feature a number of initiatives branded by Division II's tradition, history and community influence. A special 40th Anniversary highlight video was unveiled to Division II membership during the 2013 NCAA Convention, officially kicking off the celebration.

Information Courtesy of Cal Poly Pomona Sports Information Office & Chico State Sports Informtion Office.