Destin woman reflects back 30 years after breaking barriers for women in sports broadcasting

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DESTIN, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - It's been 30 years since a local Destin woman broke barriers in the world of sports, becoming the first woman play-by-play announcer for the NBA.

It was February 14, 1988, the Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Nets went head to head, and although this was just a regular season game, it became a part of history.

"It was just so ironic, I was the story," Leandra Reilly said.

Leandra Reilly started off as a reporter and quickly worked her way into the sports broadcasting world.

"And then ESPN called me and asked me to do play-by-play on a variety of events, so I was really getting traction in the play-by-play world."

At just 28 years old, Reilly was approached by Sports Channel America and offered the opportunity of a lifetime.

"They needed a sub and they tapped me as I said I had worked for ESPN, called a lot of basketball games for ESPN prior to that and others too that I freelanced, then they asked me," Reilly explained. "The guy couldn't make the game... was I interested. Was I interested? I said 'yes' before they finished the sentence."

Working in a male-dominated industry, Reilly set the path for women to follow.

"What was interesting was is the reaction ahead of time. People were calling me up, newspapers, Entertainment Tonight, shows like that were calling me up," she described, "but this was the first time there was a press conference for the broadcaster."

As a pioneer for women as a play-by-play announcer, Leandra said she couldn't be more proud of how far the industry has come.

"When you're first in something that means you were less than equal and now you finally got an opportunity to do it as opposed to inventing something," Reilly said, "so when you're the pioneer in doing something that other people have done but just not of your gender, race, it is sort of like, 'Hey you broke the barrier,' but the other side of it is we come along way when nobody talks about it."

Although much has progressed in 30 years, she said there's still more room for women's voices in sports.

"We could still use a lot more women in the play-by-play world that's a given," Reilly said, "but in the executive office, who is the head of ESPN? Who is the head of NBC sports? Who's the head of Turner sports? I'd like to see one of those places."

Reilly went on to announce a second NBA game at Boston Garden just a few weeks later on March 2, 1988. The rest is history.