Athletics Hall of Fame
[Introduction by Scott Kilgallon]
Thank you, Scott, and welcome everyone. It is an honor to be with you this evening to celebrate with the new Hall of Fame inductees and the two other award winners this evening and to continue our year-long celebration of Webster’s Centennial year with a focus on “100 years of Athletics”—as you saw a few minutes ago.
Part of the excitement of the Centennial this year is finding student stories from our history and sharing them with a wider audience today...stories that are captured in old photos and yearbooks in the Archives, or remembered by former students visiting campus for their reunions. It is the collective stories of all the students, faculty and staff who have passed through the halls of Webster since its founding in 1915 that come together to form the history of this institution, and I am here to tell you about one particular story that influenced so many others.
Before I tell you the story of Helen Manion Comer, class of 1951, let me first go back to 1915, when Webster was founded.
Since its very beginning, Webster has valued physical activity and athletics as an important part of learning. The first course catalog at Webster listed courses in physical education. And it was in connection with the Physical Education Department in 1919, that the Athletic Association was formed. Under the guidance of the Athletic Director and elected student officers, the Association directed all sports activities at Webster. They arranged the sports calendar, provided referees and scorers, selected equipment and awards, organized “pep” rallies, kept the courts and tracks in good condition and organized the year-end Field Day and Athletics Banquet.
But perhaps this excerpt from the 1940 yearbook says it best: “The purpose of a well-balanced curriculum is to promote health, sportsmanship, scholarship, and skill among students.” It reminds me of how we refer to our “STUDENT – athletes” today.
In addition to the chief sports of volleyball, basketball, tennis and track, there were other “minor” sports including hiking, swimming, skating, golf and horseback riding. A frame building was erected in the early years on Plymouth to be used as a gym until the college could afford to build a standard gymnasium. Besides its use for the sports of volleyball and basketball, it served as a gathering place for many social affairs. Later, alumni remember playing in the gym at Nerinx Hall next door. And today, of course, our basketball and volleyball teams play in Grant Gymnasium, downstairs from where we are this evening.
In addition to Intermurals on campus, and the annual “Field Day” every spring, the women of Webster’s early years played competitively against other colleges. The 1926 yearbook mentions a trip to Arcadia, Missouri by train to compete with Arcadia College in track and field events, which ended with Webster beating Arcadia with a final score of 48 ½ to 25 ½. The basketball schedule, with wins and losses, is documented in several of the older yearbooks, with Webster beating Maryville and Fontbonne in most years!
Different sports–both major and minor–were introduced over the years. Athletics were–and remain today–an important part of the Webster experience.
And so tonight, we honor a Webster alumna, turned Athletic Director and coach, for her part in carrying the tradition of athletics, physical development, good fellowship and sportsmanship forward through the 1940s and into the 1950s.
Helen Manion Comer arrived on Webster’s campus in the fall of 1947. The only child of Johnny Manion, a legendary golf pro in St. Louis, Helen chose Webster after graduating from Loretto Academy. (I should note what a small St. Louis and Webster world it is…Johnny Manion was the golf pro for many years at Sunset Hills Country Club, our current golf team’s home course!)
Helen was a physical education major and by her senior year, was elected as president of the Athletic Association. Upon her graduation, Helen was asked by then Webster president, Sister Mariella Collins, to stay on as the Athletic Director while the current Athletic Director took leave to complete her doctoral degree. Helen was honored to be asked, and happy to stay at Webster to teach and coach. She ended up staying at Webster as the Athletic Director until the spring of 1957. During that time, “Miss Manion,” taught every incoming freshman, as they were required to take a physical education course, coached three sports and served as the advisor to the Athletic Association. She completed her master’s degree at Washington University at night, and traveled to the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki, Finland.
Helen, thank you for your years of coaching and inspiration, and for carrying forward the spirit of athletic tradition at Webster University today.
Will you please step forward to receive the inaugural “Athletic Pioneer Award?”
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