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A mother’s memories – and a Katy Perry song – inspire ESPN’s Women’s Final Four Open

ESPN2's coverage of semifinals tonight traces evolution of game

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Aimee Stokes, ESPN post producer in the Creative Content Unit, recalls a story her mother told her about how she wasn’t allowed to cross half-court when she played basketball in the 1960s. It was that story, and a visit to an antique shop two years ago, that inspired the idea for this year’s NCAA Women’s Final Four show open.

“We’ve come a long way from dribbling be outlawed,” Stokes said, jokingly. “I heard the song ‘Hey Hey Hey’ by Katy Perry and watched the video, and that’s when I knew I had my thread and connection. The lyrics are about archaic perceptions of women and the balance of femininity and strength.”

ESPN employees make cameos as actors in open

While most ESPN employees were involved in the creation of the piece behind the scenes, a few contributed in frontof the camera. Event production content associates Stephanie Jones, Kristin Miller and Megan Flood, as well as Shavonne Burke from studio production, all participated as actors for the opening tease.

The show open, which will debut on ESPN2 tonight prior to the semifinals, displays women through time in era-specific uniforms that female athletes wore from 1909 to 1970, depicting the evolution of the sport and the women who play it.

“I wanted to do something uplifting and fun,” Stokes said. “I wanted to create a piece that would reflect how I feel about the event, and in the end, how we all should feel about a sport celebrating excellence by female athletes. I hope viewers walk away feeling happy when they watch it. It’s a simple goal, but one worth pursuing.”

Stokes has worked on this event for many years at ESPN, saying she was a little spoiled in her first three years covering UConn (2002-2004).

“College sports are just special,” she said.

In celebrating women through this piece, Stokes also shared her biggest influences in her life, which include her grandmother, who went back to school at the age of 50 to become a nurse, her mother, her sister, and her colleagues – former SportsCenter anchor and current Good Morning America host Robin Roberts, ESPN commentator/reporter Holly Rowe and Amy Rosenfeld, ESPN senior coordinating producer.

“These women have made me want to be a better storyteller, manager and in general, a better person.”

The Women’s Final Four tips off at 7 ET tonight on ESPN2.

The Women’s Final Four opening tease depicts the evolution and history of women’s basketball, shown here with the difference in basketballs used over the years.