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NHL helping female umpire from Taiwan break down barriers

Global Sports Mentoring Program providing foundation to boost skills, overcome obstacles

by Jon Lane @JonLaneNHL / Staff Writer

Po-Chun Liu discovered something deep into her time with the NHL as part of the Global Sports Mentoring Program.

Liu is a 38-year-old professional umpire who's had to think outside of the box to break down barriers. As a child, she was denied an opportunity to play baseball in her native Taiwan; girls weren't supposed to play the game; coaches told her there was a "no skirts allowed" policy.

As an adult, Liu found a way around that to become an umpire and a game-changer. She did something nobody dared thinking of doing. She organized an international tournament inviting women's teams from around the world and booked the largest stadium available.

But there's more work to be done, and that's where Liu's 20-day experience with the NHL fits in as a golden opportunity to spread a greater message. After a conversation with Commissioner Gary Bettman, she discovered that sports aren't designed to help someone become a professional athlete; rather, to help you be a better person.

"Previously, I thought I could help Taiwan win more gold medals," Liu said. "No, I don't think so. My priority in my role in baseball is to make Taiwan a better country."

Liu's dream is to open a baseball school in Taiwan and collaborate with Taiwan Sports University and global institutions to train proteges in baseball, umpiring and scorekeeping. The NHL's participation in the Global Sports Mentoring Program, which helps empower women and girls through sports, is providing a foundation to continue to dream big.

"It's amazing," Liu said. "Before I came here I thought the mentoring program was just to teach you skill, technique and how to do office work. They're not only here to help you to your ability, they're here to help to your personality, to empower you, encourage you and have the mission not only for yourself, but for society."

Liu is learning about marketing, sponsorship and fan development, and other areas designed to strengthen her skills and implement her action plan, before returning to Taiwan in early November. Her mentor is Susan Cohig, senior vice president of business affairs and integrated marketing for the League, who is in her fifth season of participating in the program.

"We're inspired by Po-Chun," Cohig said. "That's why the NHL is involved in this program. We find inspiration with all the women that not only have come and been with the NHL but the countless other women that we've met through the program through other mentoring organizations. Po-Chun, her tenacity, her continuing to say this is my goal and I want to fight through it and get to it because I need to do this to show that women can do it, that's inspiring to us. She's a role model to us in everything that she's done."

What Liu has done is pursue her dreams no matter what others have said or done. Two days into a three-day umpiring clinic back home she was asked to leave, told nobody would hire her.

Told "if you're going to be a plate umpire, where are you going to put your breasts?"

"When I went to a clinic for an umpire license, people told me every hour to give up," Liu said. "The skirt is not allowed. I showed them my receipt. I said I paid for the clinic, including a lunch box for tomorrow. I will come. I will show up."

Liu didn't give up. Before becoming an umpire, she volunteered with Little League Baseball, assisted with summer camps and interpreted for Taiwan's baseball association during international competitions. In 2009, the New York Yankees visited Taiwan and learned about Liu's story. They told her to look, act and treat herself like a professional umpire, and sponsored the gear she needed to do the job.

"People say I cannot do this, but the Yankees said I can," Liu said.

Since 2006, Liu has umpired for World Baseball and Softball Confederation (WBSC) tournaments in Venezuela, South Korea, and Hong Kong. Though issues remain, the gender gap in Taiwan is also closing. A superstition that stated girls weren't allowed on a baseball field past the dugout, or permitted touch a baseball or any equipment, is in the past. She has been speaking with foreign governments to host events to invite more girls to participate in sports, and through the internet is connecting with other female umpires from Japan, Korea, Hong Kong and China.

And while a guest Wednesday at the Women's Sports Foundation Awards dinner, where the United States Women's National Hockey Team was honored, a new dream was born: to one day introduce a march for the athletes at an awards dinner in Taiwan.

Considering what Liu has overcome, it'd be crazy to bet against her.

"In Taiwan, now I can speak for girls," Liu said.

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