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Mary Lou
After nailing a perfect 10 to win the gold medal in the women's all-around gymnastics competition at the 1984 Olympics, Fairmont native Mary Lou Retton flashed the smile that launched a thousand ad campaigns.

Women have long sports history

Success has followed females throughout state

  Looking Back

Sports series index

Sports, Part 2: Women, coaches, etc.

Sports for female athletes started slowly in state

10 Greatest College Coaches

10 Greatest High School Coaches

Many factors behind WVU rifle dynasty

Marshall golf program has long, proud history

WVU 63, Pitt 48: Offensive show was something

Kinder booted his way into WVU history

Jack Cook: He used local talent to build Herd baseball

WVU athletics on upswing

July 6, 1999

By J.T. Simms
For the Daily Mail

IN women's sports, West Virginians have made their presence felt throughout the country in the 20th century.

Fern "Peachy" Kellmeyer of Charleston was a central figure in the growth of women's tennis and remains an important part of the sport today.

Mary Lou Retton of Fairmont focused worldwide attention on her home state with her thrilling performance in gymnastics at the 1984 Olympics.

Vicky Bullett of Martinsburg has won two Olympic medals in basketball and is one of the top players in the WNBA.

Those three and many others have been role models for young girls and have provided electrifying moments for fans.

"I'm proud to see what has happened with women's athletics,"Kellmeyer said. "Women will just keep fighting into the next century."

Here's a look at several West Virginia women who made their marks in sports this century:

Fern "Peachy" Kellmeyer

Kellmeyer not only excelled at tennis but would later guide an institution controlled by women for women in the sport.

Today, she is senior vice president with the Women's Tennis Association in St. Petersburg, Fla.

But she was an athlete before she was an administrator.

In 1956, at the tender age of 11, Kellmeyer won the city of Charleston championship, an event that evolved into the Public Courts tournament. She took the Kanawha Valley title the next year.

At 13, she captured the West Virginia women's championship, repeating the feat the next year.

In 1957, Kellmeyer went to the Penn State tournament in Pittsburgh, where she won all three junior divisions then offered -- 13-and-under, 15-and-under and 18-and-under -- in the same week.

In 1959, at 15, she became the youngest player ever invited to compete at Forest Hills in the United States national championships, a tournament that later became the U.S. Open. She won her opening-round match that year and won twice the following year to advance to the round of 16.

During Kellmeyer's junior playing career, she ranked nationally as high as No. 2 in 15-and-under and No. 5 in 18-and-under.

To pass the time and stay in shape, the 5-foot-4 Kellmeyer played in a high school church basketball league one winter and averaged 37 points.

Peachy
Fern "Peachy" Kellmeyer of Charleston, shown in this 1956 photo, was a central figure in the growth of women's tennis and remains an important part of the sport today. "I'm proud to see what has happened with women's athletics," Kellmeyer says. "Women will just keep fighting into the next century."

In 1964, as a college sophomore, she was the first woman to become part of a University of Miami (Fla.) athletic squad. She played for the men's tennis team because there was no squad for the women.

The Miami team was then a national powerhouse that had won 126 consecutive matches and included another Kanawha Valley product in Nitro's John Santrock Jr.

She would eventually be ranked in the top 10 nationally as an adult before moving into coaching at Marymount College in Boca Raton, Fla., in 1966.

There, Kellmeyer filed and won a landmark lawsuit overturning a rule that no sports scholarships could be awarded in the coming year to women. The rule had been set by the NCAA and one of its subdivisions at the time, the Division of Girls and Women in Sports.

This ruling preceded the establishment of Title IX and opened the floodgates for women to participate in intercollegiate athletics. Kellmeyer immediately brought West Virginians Martha Thornhill and Chris Hovorka to Marymount on tennis scholarships.

"I was trying to bring players to the school by raising money that the school then matched," Kellmeyer said. "That's the proudest thing I've ever done."

In 1971, she became tournament director for the Virginia Slims women's tennis tour and then executive director in 1974.

During her tenure, the women's game grew by leaps and bounds and Kellmeyer was at the forefront, negotiating increases in prize money, arranging arena rentals (she forged the deal that brought the first women's tennis to Madison Square Garden), recruiting players and increasing the number of annual tournaments.

Kellmeyer once took a lesson fromChrisEvert'sdad,Jimmy, and now has dinner with the Everts annually during Wimbledon as part of Chris' birthday celebration.

She visits Charleston whenever she gets a chance.

"West Virginia was good for women athletes," Kellmeyer said. "It's not a bad place to grow up."

Anne White

The Charleston native and daughter of ex-Clendenin High basketball standout Pete White made the most of Kellmeyer's earlier efforts.

First, by attending Southern California on a tennis scholarship and later reaping the benefits of a growing women's pro circuit.

"I was so happy about that," Kellmeyer said of White's success. "She was really a nice girl -- very unaffected."

White even credits former Kellmeyer teammate John Santrock Jr. with influencing her game.

"I was very lucky. John Santrock, who coached me when I was young and later on the tour, taught me a really solid game," said White, who now lives in Los Angeles and is a Cartier representative.

Anne
Anne White of Charleston once was ranked as high as 19th in the world in women's singles and ninth in doubles. Her career earnings topped $1 million.

Though she may be best remembered for making headlines for wearing the white body suit at Wimbledon in 1985, that incident shouldn't overshadow her considerable competitive accomplishments.

As a 9-year-old tennis prodigy, she was ranked 29th in the country in the 12-and-under division and would go on to be ranked in the top 10 every year she played juniors.

"I could tell right away she was very good," said area teaching pro Skip Pilsbury, who also worked with White at a young age. "She could hit every shot in the book by (age) 12."

Before leaving the state to train in warmer locales, White played basketball at John Adams Junior High and George Washington High School. She was an all-state basketball performer in her only year of high school play as a sophomore.

She later was a two-time All-American at USC and twice represented the United States in Wightman Cup competitions.

While a 19-year-old sophomore at USC, the 5-foot-11 White, who was known as an aggressive player with a big serve, captured the singles, doubles and mixed doubles titles at the National Amateur Clay Courts Tournament and was on her way.

A successful professional career followed, with her rankings climbing as high as 19th in the world in singles and ninth in doubles. Her career earnings were "more than $1 million," she said.

As for the current debate over the difference between men's and women's prize money, White has her own outlook.

"I've never been one to think I should make as much as the men," she said. "They play the three-out-of-five sets, so ticketholders get more tennis for their money.

"You can get too greedy. They (women players) make a lot of money. I made a lot. I'm not a feminist really."

And what does she think of being a role model for young girls in her home state?

"It's very flattering," she said. "Not to quote Dorothy in the 'Wizard of Oz,' but there's really not a place like West Virginia. There are a lot of great people there."

Mary Lou Retton

In 1984, the powerful pixie with the big smile electrified a nation and spurred a dramatic increase in tiny tumblers from coast to coast.

The 4-foot-9 Fairmont native became the first female West Virginian to bring home Olympic gold when she won the individual all-round gymnastics competition in the Los Angeles Games.

A year later, Advertising Age magazine said her marketing was "shaping up to be the most successful in sports history."

Retton's smile became known worldwide as she became the first woman to appear in Wheaties commercials and endorsed products ranging from hamburgers to perfumes.

Her gold-medal performance provided one of history's all-time great clutch moments.

Retton entered the vault, the final event of the all-round, needing a 9.95 just to tie for first.

She nailed a perfect 10 on her first try in front of millions on television and, though it turned out to be unnecessary, she took her second vault and again scored a 10.

She also captured three consecutive American Cup titles from 1983 to 1985 and was named the Associated Press Woman Athlete of the Year in 1984.

NBC has named her gold-medal vault one of the "Greatest 100 Moments in Olympic History."

Now a married mother of two, Retton occasionally serves as a television commentator but has greatly cut down on her speaking engagements and appearances.

Mary
After being a four-time all-stater at Parkersburg Catholic High School, Mary Ostrowski became a first-team All-American for the perennially powerful Tennessee Volunteers.

Mary Ostrowski

"During a lifetime, you meet a few athletes with great potential, and a few with great desire, but only once does one come along with both," said Ostrowski's high school coach, Doug Hoselton, when she was voted the West Virginia Amateur Athlete of the Year in 1979.

Ostrowski, Retton, Mannington's Anna Lou Ballew in rifle and Fritzie Stifel Quarrier of Wheeling in golf are the only females to receive that award in its 65-year history.

Ostrowski, a four-year all-stater, was also named state girls basketball Player of the Year three straight seasons from 1977 to 1979.

The 6-foot-3 "Mary O" averaged 30.7 points in 1979 and finished her career with a 24.7 average and a state-record 2,337 points.

The future Tennessee Volunteer led tiny Parkersburg Catholic to a state Catholic crown and two Class A state titles while winning 94 of 97 games, including a state-record 88 in a row.

She went on to become a first-team All-American, leading Tennessee to three Final Four appearances and two runner-up finishes.

"I was just excited to be able to play," said Ostrowski from her current home in Knoxville. "I was in the first series of women being able to get scholarships. I was lucky to grow up in a family that didn't dissuade me from doing what I wanted to do."

Former Secondary School Activities Commission Director Sam Williams feels that the emergence of Ostrowski on the girls basketball scene was instrumental to the growth of the sport in the state.

"Mary Ostrowski was the turning point," he said. "That (when she played in the state tournament) was the first time reporters and their cameras came out."

As a 12-year-old, she played Little League baseball with the boys. Ostrowski pitched an 18-strikeout no-hitter in her debut and threw another no-hitter in all-star competition.

"Mary O" later became an assistant coach at Ohio State and is now a sales manager for UPS.


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