By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 12/31/19, Re-Posted 1/5/20
The sports world is mourning the passing Monday of Betty Shellenberger, 98, of Blue Bell, a pioneer in field hockey and lacrosse through much of the 1900s.
Betty, known to friends as “Shelly” and born in her Germantown home, was one of the first Philly girls to get introduced to the sport of lacrosse, in 1933 as a middle schooler at Agnes Irwin School.
The list of Betty’s athletic and leadership accomplishments is endless. Some of her major honors:
*Inducted into the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame (1986)
*Inducted as part of the Inaugural Class of the USA Field Hockey Hall of Fame (1988)
*Inducted into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame (1994)
*Inducted into the Eastern PA Chapter of the US Lacrosse Hall of Fame (1998)
*Inducted into the Agnes Irwin School Athletic Hall of Fame (2005)
*Inducted into Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame, (2009)
*Inducted into Chestnut Hill College Hall of Fame (2011)
* She was a member of the USA Field Hockey National team (1939-41, 1946-55, 1960); Her 17 years on the national team (some as a reserve) is the longest in USA Field Hockey history
* She was an 11-year member of the USA National Lacrosse Team
* She served as the President of the United States Women’s Lacrosse Association (1967-68)
After graduating the college prep curriculum at Agnes Irwin in 1939, Betty played for both the U.S. National Teams in lacrosse and field hockey.
In 1942 after the U.S. declared its participation in World War II, she followed her brother and enlisted in the Marine Corps. Her unit was stationed in California, where she worked as an aviation mechanic and played softball, basketball, tennis, and badminton.
Returning to the family home in Germantown after four years, Betty resumed playing internationally, teaching and coaching. She started her education career at Friends Select and Friends’ Central and moved on to establish both field hockey and lacrosse programs at the former Stevens School and Chestnut Hill College.
Betty also became a National Seniors Squash champion, playing out of the Philadelphia Cricket Club.
She stopped competing in sports in 1962, and took key leadership roles in field hockey and lacrosse while continuing to coach and referee many sports, such as field hockey, lacrosse, track and field and swimming. As a field hockey umpire, Betty served on the International Rules Committee and officiated in International competitions.
Teaching, umpiring and rating other officials up the tournament ladder, earned Betty several awards and accolades, including the Distinguished Daughter of Pennsylvania, which recognizes rare individuals that excel in athletics and historical preservation. Betty earned that honor after co-founding Historic Germantown.
In 2011 Betty did a podcast with Phillylacrosse.com when she commented on how she first learned the sport of lacrosse through her career abroad as a field hockey player and how she viewed the sport of women’s lacrosse in its current state.
“I was going to Agnes Irwin in 1933 and our athletic director, Agneta Powell, had played the sport in England and introduced the sport to the school,” Betty said during the podcast. “The first thing to do was to cradle the ball in the stick. I thought I would never be able to do it; eventually I learned.”
Betty always spoke about her great experiences abroad, relishing her field hockey tours to England, Scotland, Wales, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, among other destinations.
Betty also commented at length about many of the changes the women’s lacrosse game has endured since she first played – when wooden sticks and fields with no boundaries led to more open play and more passing.
“We spread the field out and didn’t crowd in one end of the field the way they do now,” Betty said. “Quite honestly, it was a very beautiful game the way we played it. We used to have a lot of long passes, which was a successful way of getting down to the goal where we could score.
“I don’t think the game is nearly as pretty as it was when I played. It was a very open, free flowing game and checking was never dangerous. We never had to wear protective equipment at all in all the years I played and there were never any major injuries in women’s or girls’ lacrosse.
“There was more finesse,” she said. “I think it has become more difficult to check the ball out of those plastic sticks. You have to be much more physical to get the ball out and that is one reason there are more injuries.”
Betty said she feels fortunate that she played during the era when sports rotated along with the seasons and noted that student-athletes today are missing out on playing other sports in this “one-sport, every-season” era. That’s how she managed to be on the U.S. World Teams in both field hockey and lacrosse; during the 1930s through the 1960s.
Overall, Betty said while she did not like seeing some of the changes in the women’s game, she had enjoyed seeing the women’s game grow and provide scholarship opportunities.
“I think it’s great that people have this opportunity,” she said in the podcast. “Only the boys had scholarships back then. There were some very talented women athletes and they should be rewarded the same way because they do bring a lot of credit to their schools. Now it’s grown by leaps and bounds – it’s great, I love to see athletes participating.”
Arrangements for a memorial service are pending.
Comments on Betty Shellenberger:
“Betty was a pioneer in Women’s sports of field hockey and lacrosse. She saw a need to improve umpiring and took the leadership role of development. She umpired many of my field hockey games while I played at Ursinus College.” – Feffie Barnhill, current Ursuline Academy (DE) lacrosse coach and former Ursinus multiple-sport standout and William & Mary head lacrosse coach
“Shelly was a positive role model and mentor to many women. She was always so supportive and gave many of us confidence and encouragement with our umpiring. She umpired with many of us and trained hundreds of women and men. In our area she was a pioneer in women’s sports. She will be greatly missed but always remembered.” – JoAnn Yusko, former Marple Newtown basketball, field hockey and lacrosse coach and longtime field hockey umpire