Shellenberger turns 90

Aug. 08, 2011, 12:48 p.m. (ET)

In the fall of 1931 a pig-tailed ten year old picked up a field hockey stick at the Agnes Irwin School.  That act has proven to be much more than a case of love at first dribble.  eighty years later, she is still actively involved in hockey.  Mention the name “Shelly” in any country where women played hockey mid 20th century and it will be recognized immediately.  The combination of skill on the field, a fierce competitive nature, administrative talent, and the lifetime belief in service instilled by her parents have made Betty Shellenberger a true, respected, and revered legend around the world!

Shelly’s hockey coach at Agnes Irwin, who was the Assistant Director of Mr. Pocono Hockey Camp - the camp founded in 1922 by Constance M.K. Applebee, the English woman who introduced hockey in the US in 1901 - invited her star pupil to camp as a 9th grader and Shelly has always maintained that the opportunity Pocono provided to play with the top American and English players was the single most important contributing factor to her playing success.  After graduation from Agnes Irwin, she represented the Philadelphia Cricket Club (no college competition in those days) and Philadelphia and was first named to the USA Team at age of 18 being, by far, the youngest member of that team.  With the exception of the WWII years during which she served her country in the US Marine Corps, Shelly was named to US teams until 1960 - a 21 year period - and then continued to play on Philadelphia and Philadelphia Master’s Teams at the National Hockey Festival until the age of 84, providing an unbelievable source of inspiration to hundreds of school girls and their parents who would flock to the fields where her team was scheduled to play.  She represented the US on numerous touring teams and at four of the quadrennial International Federation of Women’s Hockey Association Tournaments, the Olympic Games of women’s hockey prior to the sport’s admission to the Olympics in 1980.  Shelly is a Charter Member of the USA Field Hockey Hall of Fame.

But it is not only on the playing field that Shelly has excelled.  Her umpiring career spans seven decades - on the national and international levels and still continuing today at the school level.  USA Field Hockey presented its Honorary Umpire Award to Shelly.  It has created in her honor, the “Shellenberger Umpiring Award,” recognizing long-time service on and off the field.  On the game’s technical side she took on, in 1950 as part of a player effort, an instrumental role in the adoption of the US’s major contribution to the Rules of the game - the “American Corner”- a change that contributed significantly to the improvement of the sport.  Shelly served for 23 years on the IFWHA International Rules Committee and its successor following the merger of the international men’s and women’s hockey bodies, the independent International Rules Board.  She has taken part in two Olympic Games – Los Angeles 1984 as a Judge and Atlanta 1996 as a Technical Organizer.

Turning to the administrative side, Shelly’s talent and willingness to give back to the sport were recognized early.  She served as USA Field Hockey’s Recording Secretary and Treasurer.  Then for the 23 years from 1955-78 she became its first volunteer Executive Secretary, serving during a period when the growth of hockey in the US was so rapid that the position became a full-time job.

It is not just in hockey that Shelly has made her mark.  Her lacrosse career mirrors her hockey accomplishments.  Again, it began as a schoolgirl at Agnes Irwin, and moved on to selection to US teams 16 times between 1940 and 1961.  She was an active umpire for fifty years, earning a National rating. In the administrative realm she served as President of the USWLA and Secretary of the IFWLA. 

Past USWLA President, Caroline Haussermann, comments that “Shelly was invaluable to the USWLA.  Ever ready to serve in any capacity, she could always be counted on to give back to the sport she loved and her knowledge of facts and historical details ensured smooth transitions from past to present.”  The USWLA has made her an Honorary Member and she also has been elected to the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame.

Among many other notable sports accomplishments are a win in the National Senior Singles Squash Championship and election to the Charter Class of the Agnes Irwin School Hall of Fame;  the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame; and the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame, only the 7th woman named out of over 100 members.,. And as a native daughter, she is an avid, avid fan of all teams Philadelphian, but especially her beloved Phillies.

Lest anyone think, however, that Shelly has no time for anything but sports, it should be recorded that she also has a great passion for things historic.  As with her sports, she has given much of her time and talents in support of numerous preservation endeavors.  Honored with membership in the Germantown Historical Society Hall of Fame, Shelly also has been named a Distinguished Daughter of Pennsylvania for both her sports achievements and preservation work.

All in all, a very special and remarkable career - and one that for hockey and lacrosse will never be matched.

USA Field Hockey wishes Shelly a happy 90th birthday! Check out this short birthday video.