“Betty was an icon and played such a huge role in so many capacities to help shape the sport,” said Simon Hoskins, USA Field Hockey’s Executive Director. “She was a huge supporter of USA Field Hockey and helped the organization develop. She will be dearly missed.”“Shelly was by far one of the biggest legends we’ve had in our sport,” added Pam Hixon, the U.S. Women’s National Team coach for the 1994 World Cup and Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games. “She was just an amazing person and a true role model and ambassador. She did it all - played, umpired, served on the board and was a lifelong field hockey philanthropist. Shelly was one of our sport’s greatest pioneers.”
“U.S. Women’s National Team players will never forget her unconditional support at every tournament, donning the red, white and blue,” continued Liz Tchou, USA Field Hockey’s Senior Manager of Coach Education and Atlanta 1996 Olympian. “Betty humbled us every time she and her peers told the amazing hockey stories and challenges they faced in the early days of competition, from the crazy travel just to get to tournaments, to hearing about the teammates that became forever friends. Thanks to Betty and so many others for paving the way for all of us who love the sport. Your legacy will live on.”
Shelly was born August 8, 1921 and picked up a field hockey stick for the first time at the age of 10, a moment that would define her life for more than eight decades. The mere mention of her name in a nation where women actively played field hockey in the mid-1900s would be instantly recognizable. The combination of skill on the field, a fierce competitive nature, administrative talent and the lifetime belief in service instilled by her parents made Shelly a true, respected and revered legend around the world.
Her roots to the game date back to her time as a student at The Agnes Irwin School. Her field hockey coach at the time was directly tied to the Mt. Pocono Hockey Camp that was founded in 1922 by Constance M.K. Applebee, who was instrumental in the foundation of the game in the United States. Shelly would hold on to that moment for years to come, citing that the invitation to that camp by her coach was the single most important factor to her success.
No college competition existed by the time Shelly graduated from The Agnes Irwin School. Instead, she represented the Philadelphia Cricket Club, the oldest country club in the United States, and was the youngest athlete named to the U.S. Women’s National Team at the age of 18. She was a member of the team across four decades, totaling 21 years between 1939-41, 1946-55 and once more in 1960, a record career that still stands today. Only due to World War II did Shelly pause from playing with the team as she served her country in the US Marine Corps. She represented the red, white and blue at four International Federation of Women’s Hockey Association (IFWHA) Tournaments and several U.S. National Team tours.
“Shelly was the 'face' of the USA Field Hockey Association to the field hockey world beyond the United States,” said Sharon Taylor, 2014 USA Field Hockey Hall of Fame Honorary Member and former USA Field Hockey President. “But her contributions to, and associations with, a host of sport and civic organizations, as a participant and as a leader, were legendary. Betty Shellenberger was one of the women who must be remembered in the annals of women's sport in the United States as one who made that pursuit possible for tens of thousands of other girls and women. No job was too big, or too insignificant, for Shelly to take it on in the sports she served. Shelly was a remarkable athlete, official, administrator and benefactor. She stands in the minds of so many of us, along with her good friend and mentor, ‘The Apple,’ as a treasured foremother of field hockey. Thank you, Shelly, and we wish you a well-deserved and peaceful rest.”
Shelly also excelled beyond the playing field as an umpire, a role she held more than 70 years on the national level. Following her playing career, she expanded to umpiring on the international level.
Because of her commitment to the profession, the USA Field Hockey Association created the Shellenberger Umpiring Award, which recognizes long-term service on and off the pitch, honoring Shelly by making her its namesake. On the technical side, she played a major role in the adoption of the “American Corner” rule, which significantly improved the game in the United States.
“Betty was so passionate and gave so much to USA Field Hockey,” said Tracey Fuchs, Northwestern University Head Coach, former USWNT athlete and two-time Olympian. “Throughout my 17-year career, she and the ‘Golden Girls’ traveled the world to support us and cheer us on. I will treasure the stories and memories that we shared and will miss her dearly.”
“What an amazing woman and true legend in the field hockey world and promoter of the game,” added Barb Marois, former USWNT captain and two-time Olympian.
“What a wonderful gift to the field hockey community she was,” said Laurel Martin, Atlanta 1996 Olympian.
Shelly also served for 23 years between the IFWHA International Rules Committee and the International Hockey Federation (FIH) Rules Committee. Despite never representing USA as an athlete in the Olympic Games, Shelly attended the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games as a judge and Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games as a technical organizer.
“There are few women who are known by just one name, like Cher or Madonna for instance,” said Barb Carriero, 2018 USA Field Hockey Hall of Fame Honorary Member and former Board of Directors member. “For USA Field Hockey that woman was Shelly. She showed up everywhere there was a U.S. function, be it a Board of Directors meeting, Umpiring Committee meeting, National Hockey Festival as a Masters player or umpire, and as one of the world traveling 'Golden Girls' following the U.S. Women’s National Team. Her love and dedication to USA Field Hockey was an inspiration to all who knew her. I am proud to say she was one of my mentors and role models who taught me how to give back and support the sport we all love.”
As an administrator, Shelly served USA Field Hockey as a recording secretary and treasurer. She was also the first executive secretary from 1955-78. In 1956 she was named secretary of the IFWHA, a position she held until 1963. That same year she was elected vice president.
Shelly was also head coach at Chestnut Hill College from 1964-77 where her playing history in lacrosse mirrored that of field hockey. Because of her overall contributions to both sports, she is a member of multiple Hall of Fames, including the inaugural USA Field Hockey Hall of Fame Class of 1988. She is also enshrined in the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame (1986), The Agnes Irwin Athletic Hall of Fame (2005), Eastern Pennsylvania Lacrosse Hall of Fame (2008) and Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame (2009). Shelly also founded both the Chestnuts and Hillers Hockey clubs of the Philadelphia Field Hockey Association.
In 1987, she was named a Distinguished Daughter of Pennsylvania for her contributions to sports in general and for the historic preservation of Germantown in the Philadelphia area.
She lived a life that only few have the chance to. Shelly’s impact on the sport, from future athletes to coaches, umpiring and administration, will continue to resonate for generations to come. The entire USA Field Hockey Family would like to extend its condolences to Shelly’s family, friends and extended field hockey network around the globe.
A service to celebrate Shelly’s life has been confirmed for Sunday, April 5, 2020 at 2:00 p.m. at The Agnes Irwin School in Bryn Mawr, Pa., where her journey and legacy all began.
The Agnes Irwin School
275 S Ithan Ave.
Bryn Mawr, PA 19018
Thank you, Shelly. You will be dearly missed.
Updated: March 17, 2020
As part of the national effort to contain the further spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), based on the information that is available from the experts in the medical community and the government agencies, Betty Shellenberger's service to celebrate her life has been postponed until further notice.