When it came time to select one behind-the-scenes employee to ring the bell at the New York Stock Exchange on ESPN’s 25th anniversary (2004), the choice was clear for then-ESPN President George Bodenheimer.
Six years later, that same employee was picked to represent ESPN at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics by carrying the Olympic torch through the Canadian streets.
It was Cheryl Therriault, ESPN’s longest-tenured employee, who will retire Friday, June 15 after an illustrious near-40-year career with the company.
“It was an easy call,” Bodenheimer said of selecting Cheryl for the bell and torch roles. “There is no better person to represent the company than Cheryl Therriault.”
Despite the deserved accolades, Cheryl – who is an administration manager in ESPN’s Media Engineering group – always prefers to deflect the attention.
“When George asked me to join him and [longtime ESPN commentator] Bob Ley at the Stock Exchange, I replied, ’Are you sure, George? You want me there?’
“And then for the torch, George got me again. I was really nervous. I didn’t want to fall. Those were special memories. I was so honored.”
“In March 1979, Cheryl joined our tiny band of ‘dreamers and doers’ . . .”
ESPN founder Bill Rasmussen hired Cheryl on March 26, 1979, nearly six months prior to ESPN’s launch.
Cheryl remembered, “It all started when I called to wish a friend a happy birthday and she told me about an open position at ESPN and I should come down and apply. I was working at the American Red Cross in Farmington [Conn.] and all I knew about this new company was that they planned to televise sports around the clock.”
Cheryl immediately bonded with the people of ESPN, and because she grew up in Bristol, the opportunity seemed like a welcome change for one practical reason.
“I always wanted to be closer to home because I hated the commute to Farmington,” the Bristol Eastern High School graduate said. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be part of a company that put my hometown on the map by bringing it worldwide attention.”
From the beginning, she was part of a very special group and a hard-working culture she helped define.
“In March 1979, Cheryl joined our tiny band of ‘dreamers and doers’ in the original ESPN Plainville [Conn.] office,” Rasmussen said. “We were few in number but very big in ideas. Cheryl was an instant believer and valued friend. Congratulations to an original – well done!”
“She’s always epitomized what it’s like to be a true ESPNer . . .”
While the buildings have changed over the years, Cheryl noted how those early times were unforgettable.
“Eventually we got transferred from Plainville to Bristol and worked out of a trailer until Building 1 was finished. When they were paving the Building 1 driveway, they got too close to our trailer and made it unstable so believe it or not, we had to evacuate the trailer.”
Given her tenure and legacy of kindness, ESPN colleagues affectionately refer to Cheryl as “Number One.”
“Cheryl is truly number one in a lot of ways,” Bodenheimer shared. “And thankfully Bill Rasmussen made that great decision to hire her because she’s always epitomized what it’s like to be a true ESPNer – great personality, integrity and work ethic. Cheryl has it all.”
She became ESPN’s longest-tenured employee in fall of 1985 when former on-air commentator Lou Palmer retired.
“It’s amazing to be known by so many people as Number One. Everywhere I go at ESPN, people say to me, ‘Hey, Number One.’ It’s quite an honor.”
“In her 39 years, Cheryl has seen it all and helped countless people across the company . . . “
In 1979, Cheryl started as a general assistant for the company and soon transferred to the sales group before joining the travel team. She spent 13 years in travel before moving to the ESPN executive area working with former production operations and engineering execs. For the past several years, she’s been part of the technology department.
Former ESPN CTO Chuck Pagano, who also joined ESPN in 1979 and worked with Cheryl for many years, said, “I had the honor of meeting Cheryl in the early days. ESPN’s original chief engineer, Ralph Voigt, introduced me to her and I found her to have an incredibly energetic glow about her. She still has that glow and has consistently exhibited that wonderful quality throughout her career.”
Former ESPN executive Kevin Stolworthy, who worked with Cheryl for many years after joining the technology group, offered, “In her 39 years, Cheryl has seen it all and helped countless people across the company. To quote George Bodenheimer, ‘a leader makes the people they work with better’ and Cheryl made me and so many others better every single day.”
Her current boss, ESPN Senior VP, Media Engineering, John Heerdt, added: “Cheryl is extremely proud of all that she’s accomplished and you can see that pride in her attitude and work ethic every single day.”
“Outside of my immediate family, my ESPN family will always be near and dear to my heart”
Cheryl recalls how ESPN’s first taste of financial success led to a combination of celebration and relief.
“Early on, we all had high hopes but we didn’t know if it wasn’t going to fly. When we were finally in the black, we all felt like ‘We did it!’ and we continued moving forward.”
For ESPN, it’s been a unique journey, and according to the employee who’s lived more of it than anyone, the teamwork is the critical constant.
“My career was both challenging and fun. There was never a day that was the same as a previous one. Above all, I got to know many great people and form valuable friendships. The integrity of the people is what makes ESPN.”
Despite his relatively new status in Bristol, ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro has quickly come to recognize the fantastic reputation of “Number One” and appreciate her lasting impact.
“Cheryl has many fans at ESPN and I am now one of them based on the wonderful things I’ve heard about her,” Pitaro said. “She is truly an ESPN pioneer who has embodied, every day for 39 years, all that’s great about the ESPN culture. What an amazing ride. She should be extremely proud of her accomplishments and she will be missed.”
While Cheryl will always be known as “Number One,” her retirement will signify a new longest-tenured employee – Anne Bailey, who started at ESPN in May 1979, nearly two months after Cheryl.
With retirement fast approaching after nearly 40 years at ESPN, what’s next for the most experienced employee in company history?
“It’s time for me to move on to the next chapter,” Cheryl said. “I will do a little traveling and take care of stuff at home.”
As always with Cheryl, collaboration is how she defines her ESPN experience.
“I will miss the people most. I’m a people person. That means everything to me. Buildings are buildings, but it’s the people that make everything work. Outside of my immediate family, my ESPN family will always be near and dear to my heart.”