The distinction is presented by the United States Basketball Writers Association (USBWA), and recognizes the successful coach for her personal courage in sharing her life experiences and speaking out for victims.
After suffering in silence for years, Francis spoke out about being the victim of sexual abuse at a local event in 2011. The support she received from victims encouraged Francis to share her story publicly in 2012, in articles for both the Associated Press and Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Magazine.
“I am very honored and humbled to receive this award,” said Francis. “It wasn’t easy to speak out after years of silence, but to receive support and encouragement like this reinforces just how important it is not to remain silent on the topic of sexual abuse. I am grateful to the USBWA for their support.”
Inspired to prevent others from suffering as she had, Francis became involved with Erin Merryn, an abuse victim who is working to pass legislation that requires states to provide age appropriate education for students regarding sexual abuse. Francis’ personal testimony was instrumental in getting the bill passed through both the house and senate in Michigan and signed into law in January of 2013.
Francis’ dual role of advocate and basketball coach merged this January, when Oakland hosted the inaugural Awareness Without Fear game at the Athletics Center O’rena.
The Golden Grizzlies recognized the legislatures involved with passing Erin’s Law during the game against North Dakota State. Oakland also managed to raise awareness and funding for HAVEN and CARE House, collecting more than $1,000 for each of the local organizations, which support victims of abuse and assault.
“No one wants to talk about the topic of sexual abuse,” Francis said. “It’s uncomfortable. But that kind of reluctance is what we have to fight against. Sharing my story has made me free and I hope that sharing my story inspires others to tell and get help just like I did. Educating children about how to, 'get away and tell today,' is the first step and Erin’s Law will give kids the knowledge they need.”
On the court, Francis has led Oakland to 227 wins, which ranks second in program history. A two-time Summit League Coach of the Year, she has twice taken Oakland to the NCAA Tournament and led the school to a total of four postseason appearances at the Division I level.
Francis successfully guided the program through the transition from Division II to Division I, and has taken the Golden Grizzlies to the Summit League Championship game seven times in the past 13 years. She ranks third in overall and league wins by a Summit League coach and is second among active coaches in Summit League winning percentage.
Now in its 25th year, the Most Courageous Award is the third oldest award presented by the USBWA, behind only the male and female player of the year awards.
Former recipients of the award include Jim Valvano, Steve Kerr and Pat Summitt. Last year, the female award was named after Summitt, the longtime coach at Tennessee. The award will be presented to Francis at the NCAA Women’s Final Four in New Orleans.
For more information about the Oakland women’s basketball team, view the athletics website at ougrizzlies.com
. To learn more about Erin Merryn or Erin’s law, visit the website at erinmerryn.net