By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 11/25/08
Elizabeth “Libby” Williams says she coached scholastic lacrosse as well as field hockey and basketball at the scholastic level in the 1950s, ’60’s and ‘70s for the love of sports and young student athletes – and she did it for no pay.
“There was nothing like coaching,” said Williams. “I didn’t get paid a cent. Did male coaches get paid? I never asked. All I wanted was to coach.”
Williams, a longtime Plymouth Meeting resident who turns 81 on Dec. 16, is one of the most accomplished girls’ and women’s coaches for any sport from the Philadelphia area and beyond. She built powerhouses in several sports at Upper Darby and Plymouth Whitemarsh high schools and later coached National lacrosse teams for the U.S. and Canada while also being credited for developing the elite US field hockey program.
Tuesday night at Westover Golf Club in Jeffersonville, she was honored as one of four 2008 inductees in the Montgomery County Coaches Hall of Fame. Now living in Daytona Beach, Fla., she was unable to attend because she is recovering from surgery to remove hernias.
Accepting the plaque in her behalf were three former Plymouth Whitemarsh standouts that played for Williams: Advisory Board member Nina Smith (Class of 1969), Old Dominion hockey coach and former Olympian Beth Anders (1969) and former Olympian and Episcopal Academy athletic director Gina Buggy (1977).
In Williams’ absence, the crowd of 600 attendees watched a brief video about coaching career, which included interviews with Anders, Buggy and several other former players such as National Lacrosse Hall of Famer Janice (Rensimer) Kuklick. The message was simple: Williams was devoted to building women’s athletics at a time when not many women coached and when girls had much fewer opportunities than they do today.
“I was thrilled that she got honored,” said Smith, who played hockey and lacrosse for Williams and also was a swimmer. “I feel really fortunate that I had such a great coach at the age that I was in high school.
“Back then, there really weren’t a lot of great female coaches. It’s unbelievable the amount of people she coached that went on to coach, themselves, because she was such a great role model.
“Probably over half our team ended up coaching one time or another – not just at the high school level, but the college level, too. I am still coaching hockey (at Germantown Academy at the middle school level).”
Williams had a remarkable scholastic record. She coached 22 undefeated teams in lacrosse, field hockey and basketball at Upper Darby and Plymouth Whitemarsh at a time when there were no district or state playoffs for girls’ teams. In her 14 years as lacrosse coach at PW, she was 101-13-3, and 96-6-1 after her first two seasons.
The incredible story about Williams, though, was that she never played lacrosse in high school (George School in Bucks County) or college (Skidmore College in NY and then at Penn). She learned the game when she came to Plymouth Whitemarsh in the late 1950s as a gym teacher by using grapefruits inside an old barn.
“We used small grapefruits because the ball was too dangerous,” said Williams in a phone interview. “If the lacrosse ball bounced it would bounce so high the second time that it could knock out the windows in the people’s farms.
“They stuck me with lacrosse (at PW). They had a fair amount of girls (when I started coaching) and I thought, ‘I better get myself going.’ I used the defenses I knew from basketball and all the things I could teach from a book.
“We had a lot of good athletes and a lot of good kids. We did alright.”
Williams, who used a brand of tough love mixed with a zest for motivating young athletes, did better than alright – and she did not stop at the scholastic level. Williams coached with the U.S. National lacrosse team for seven years and when she retired from teaching in 1985 she accepted the challenging job of coaching the Canadian National lacrosse team at the age of 59.
The Canadians were raw and undisciplined. What’s more, half the team was located in the Western provinces and the other half in the East near Toronto and Montreal. Williams had to travel to each coast on weekends to prepare them for international tournaments.
But Williams was once again highly successful, using her ability to motivate, discipline and unite young athletes.
“I went every two weeks for 6 months to Saskatchewan for the 10 girls from Vancouver or to Toronto and Montreal for the others,” she said. “They didn’t get to play together on whole field until the International Conference at Swarthmore (in 1986).
“When I first met then, they were unbelievable. They would gripe at each other on the field and swear all the time, at each other, the officials, to everyone. It was nothing to them. And their stickwork was poor; it was like teaching beginners and they were aged from 18 to 31.
“I remember one time when we started. One of the players was in a drill and said, ‘My feet hurt.’ I told her, ‘Start running (around the field) and don’t stop until I tell you!’ After a while, when she got pretty tired, I told her to come back to the drills. I said, ‘How do your feet feel now?’
“After that, they saw what I was about. If they did swear, we’d do 25 sit-ups. Soon, it reached 100 sit-ups. Pretty quickly, no one swore anymore.”
That summer at Swarthmore, Canada stunned everyone by placing third with Williams at the helm. Clearly, the sit-ups paid off.
“I saw a lot of the Toronto airport,” recalled Williams. “One time the customs man did his X-rays and said, ‘Coach, I see you’re going to work the girls harder this week.’ I said, ‘Why do you say that?’ He said, ‘I notice you have two whistles this time.’ ”
Williams also was a major force in building the sport of field hockey. She assisted at Ursinus when it was a powerhouse in the 1970s and helped develop what became the US National team. Both Anders – a 2002 inductee into the Montgomery County Coaches Hall of Fame – and Buggy, each Ursinus grads, were members of the 1984 Olympic team that claimed a silver medal in Los Angeles.
Buggy actually never played for Williams at Plymouth Whitemarsh because she came to the school when Williams retired from coaching. But Williams was still assisting in lacrosse and field hockey and took her own time to help Buggy become a standout in both sports.
“Interestingly, before I went to PW, I attended Catholic schools and the main reason my my parents sent me there was the reputation of Libby Williams and the coaches at Plymouth Whitemarsh,” said Buggy, who is in her 23rd year as AD at Episcopal and remains the hockey coach. “They still had great coaches and great players, but Libby literally took an interest in me from the sidelines and really inspired me to work harder.
“She picked me out and challenged me to become better. I loved it, loved the interest she took in me. She would come to the games and critique the games and sometimes she would yell at me and say, ‘I can’t believe you did that!’ It was definitely a tough-love approach. I was motivated by it; I wanted to impress her.”
Buggy was encouraged by Williams to attend Ursinus after graduating. She then enjoyed four standout seasons in both lacrosse and hockey at Ursinus, where Williams also served as a volunteer assistant.
“I feel so fortunate that Libby picked me out and supported me and motivated me and then have me the encouragement to go to Ursinus,” Buggy said. “As a result, it pretty much created the landscape of my life.”
Also present Tuesday night to honor Williams were: longtime friend and former Ursinus field hockey coach Adele Boyd, former PW teacher Patricia West and current Ursinus field hockey coach Laura Moliken.
Also inducted Tuesday were Skip Wilson (Temple baseball), Fran Murphy (Upper Merion football) and Larry Wilson (Gwynedd Mercy Academy, Ambler Olympic Club track and cross country). Former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, a Norristown native and 2002 inductee in the original class with Anders and PW basketball coaching legend Hank Stofko, was given the Lifetime Achievement Award and delivered a hilarious 20-minute speech.