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Whipple, Diane (1968-2001)  
 
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A star athlete, Diane Whipple turned her love of sports into a career, becoming the popular and inspirational coach of the women's lacrosse team at Saint Mary's College in Moraga, California, near San Francisco. Just as she was beginning to enjoy success, however, she was killed in a vicious dog-mauling.

Her partner, Sharon Smith, not only cooperated with the prosecutor of the criminal case against the owners of the dangerous dogs but also took the unprecedented step of filing a civil suit against them, asserting the right of same-sex partners to be treated on an equal basis with heterosexuals. Her actions helped change California law.

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Diane Alexis Whipple spent her youth in the eastern United States. She was born in Princeton, New Jersey on January 21, 1968 and grew up in her maternal grandparents' home in Manhasset, New York in a family that also consisted of her mother, two uncles, and two aunts.

Her grandfather encouraged the young people to play sports, and Whipple followed her uncles into lacrosse, becoming an outstanding player at Manhasset High School. She continued as a student-athlete at Pennsylvania State University, where she was a three-time All-American and a key player in Penn State's national championships in 1987 and 1989.

In her senior year the university honored her as its best woman athlete, and she also won the prestigious title of National Player of the Year from the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

In addition to her prowess at lacrosse, Whipple was a runner, and she moved to California to train for the Olympic Games in the 800-meter dash. She missed qualifying for the 1996 team by less than two seconds but continued her dedication to running.

Whipple was living in San Diego in February 1994 when a friend she had met through lacrosse invited her to an evening of dinner and dancing in Los Angeles. Among the other guests was Sharon Smith, a college friend of the hostess in town for training to become a manager at Charles Schwab. As soon as Whipple saw Smith, she told their friend, "That is going to be mine."

Smith moved to California a month later, and she and Whipple "did the commuting thing" for a few months before settling together in San Francisco.

The couple was well-matched. "They had the kind of love story sappy romance movies are made of," observed writer Aphrodite Jones. On a vacation in St. Thomas, they decided to have a commitment ceremony, writing their own vows and exchanging rings. Both hoped that their union would include children.

Whipple spent a year as a high school coach at the Menlo School in Atherton before moving to St. Mary's, which had just been admitted to NCAA Division I.

Her work was cut out for her. "The first time she saw us play [at St. Mary's], I thought she would fall over laughing," recalled team member Amy Harms at Whipple's memorial service. "Knowledge of the sport got Coach her job. But friendship made us love her."

Whipple was thoroughly professional yet unconventional in molding her inexperienced charges into a team. In addition to stressing the development of skills, she hosted team dinners and sent her athletes on scavenger hunts to build solidarity.

Against all odds, the Gaels of St. Mary's managed to finish with an 8-8 record, far better than expected.

"We were the Bad News Bears when she came here, but she made us a team," stated student-athlete Megan Bryan. "She helped us get so close. We were her creation."

Athletic director Carl Clapp recalled that "whenever [Whipple] talked about the women's lacrosse team, her eyes started watering. She was so passionate."

Those visions of success on the playing field, along with her intention to grow old together with Smith, were brought to a sudden end when she was fatally mauled by dogs belonging to her neighbors on January 26, 2001.

Whipple was still alive when paramedics arrived at the horrific scene and rushed her to the hospital. Doctors worked valiantly to save her, but she died approximately an hour after their two-hour surgery to repair the extensive injuries that she had suffered.

Smith, who had come home from work and found their street clogged with police and fire department vehicles and media trucks, was at the hospital when Whipple came out of surgery in "very critical condition."

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