School Archives

February 2019, "Magnificat Athletics" Part I

Magnificat Athletics: Laying the Foundation

Part one of a three-part series

By Mary Cay Doherty

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The Magnificat community mourns the loss of Sister Claire Young, H.M. who died at the Sisters of the Humility of Mary’s Villa in Pennsylvania on December 11, 2018. In the years before the H.M. sisters returned to their baptismal names, Sister Claire Young was known as Sister Mary Pius, and she was Magnificat’s first physical education teacher (1956-1967). She also served as Magnificat’s principal from 1967 to 1971.

This month we begin a three part series about the history of athletics at Magnificat, and that story begins with Sister Claire Young, whose contributions merited her place in the inaugural class of Magnificat’s Athletic Hall of Fame and continue to affect Magnificat athletics and school spirit.

For Sister Mary Pius, physical activity was a critical component in the holistic development of the Magnificat student, so she created physical education opportunities that motivated students to engage in physical education classes (P.E.) class activities and intramural sports with a focus on participation, sportsmanship, and healthy competition.

Magnificat P.E. classes included among other activities, archery. The pictures of Sister Mary Pius working with students in archery are among my favorites in the Archives. And I get the same flutter of excitement when I see the archery targets set up each fall as today’s students develop their archery skills. For me, archery is one of the many distinct components of a Magnificat education. Many of our alumnae and students might not give it a second thought, but archery isn’t part of the physical education experience for students everywhere. My grade school and high school in the Cleveland dioceses did not offer archery, and my own children’s elementary or high schools did not afford them archery opportunities either. So for me, those archery targets are yet another concrete sign that Magnificat strikes the bullseye in creating a very unique and special environment for young women.

Sister Mary Pius also brought Speedaway to Magnificat. Speedaway is a game that combines football, soccer and basketball components to create a unique, yet simple, team sport that only requires players, a field and a regulation soccer ball. This easy and inexpensive game was invented in California in 1950 by a physical education teacher named Marjorie Larsen. While the game was undoubtedly played in P.E. class at Magnificat, the December 4, 1959 Magnificat describes in detail on page 4 (“Linda Punts Record”) a Magnificat Speedaway victory over the St. Drawde Beagles and describes the rewards reaped by Magnificat students for their victory as well as the ramifications for the losing team. This presumably tongue in cheek article indicates that Speedaway at Magnificat also provided opportunities for interaction with the young men at St. Edward (spelled backward “Drawde”) High School.

In addition to P.E. class, many of Magnificat’s young women participated on intramural volleyball, tennis, basketball, baseball, and bowling teams in the 1950s and 1960. And beginning in 1957, the intramural basketball season culminated in an All-Star game by class. This playoff game system fostered class unity and school spirit as freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior teams competed to win the trophy each year in much the same way that our girls today engage in the Big-Lil Challenge every fall.

Our Big-Lil Challenge Cup also has roots in Sister Mary Pius’ “Septathlon.” The first such event was actually an Octathlon and was held in the Spring of 1958. Magnificat students competed by class for a trophy in a series of athletic competitions: running broad jump, shuttle relay, standing broad jump, 50 yard dash, a basketball throw, high jump, sit-ups, and a baseball throw. The June 3, 1958 Magnificat school newspaper noted that a freshman won the Octathlon trophy in 1958. While the first occurrence had eight events (an Octathlon), the June 1, 1959 Magnificat School newspaper referred to it as the Septathlon, indicating that an event was dropped in either 1958 or 1959.

The physical education director for the Cleveland dioceses attended Magnificat’s “Octathlon” and was so impressed with the event (which he called a “play day”) that he planned to share the concept with other Catholic high schools in the area.

Thus, Magnificat hosted the first “Play Day” in the next year on October 4, 1958. Magnificat juniors and seniors hosted teams from Central Catholic in Canton, Lourdes Academy in Cleveland, St. John in Ashtabula, and Villa Maria in Villa Maria, Pennsylvania, all schools with Humility of Mary sisters. Events included archery, badminton, shuffleboard, softball, and track and field. Another “play day” occurred on September 24, 1960. The October 14, 1960 headline in the Magnificat school newspaper read “Squaws Meet for Sports Pow Wow” although St. John’s in Ashtabula did not participate in this play day.

Sister Mary Pius promoted student participation in P.E. class, intramurals, and the Septathlon by introducing a varsity letter program to Magnificat in the late 1950s (“Gymnasts Strive for School Letter”). Initially, all students had an opportunity to earn a letter via points collected during the course of their four-year career at Magnificat. The November 4, 1958 Magnificat noted “Girls who are not athletically inclined need not be frustrated. Having a complete gym costume and having perfect posture at all times will also merit points for a student.” Students could also earn points through the annual Septathlon. Marianne McKeon

Abrigo '62, for example, was awarded the Athletic Award in June 1959 for the most number of points at the Septathlon. In 1958, girls needed 500 points for their “M” and 300 points for the numerals. The number of points to earn the letter was reduced to 350 by 1960.

As William Shakespeare wrote in The Tempest, “What’s past is prologue.” Sister Claire Young played a pivotal role in establishing a physical education program complemented by an intramural sports program that also developed class and school camaraderie. Our athletic program which today includes physical education classes and 12 competitive team sports is rooted in the passion with which Sister Claire Young first guided our fledgling program, but also bears witness to cultural and legislative changes in the United States beginning in the 1970s. In March and April, we will look at the evolution of the fitness culture as well as the impact the Title IX had on competitive sports for women.

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_____. “B-Ball, Hockey = Speed-A-Way.” Magnificat Vol III, No 1. Rocky River: Magnificat High School, Dec 4, 1959.

_____. “Blue Nun” Schools Frolic With Fun.” Magnificat Vol II, No 1. Rocky River: Magnificat High School, November 4, 1958.

_____. “’Bouncer’ Heads All-Star Team.” Magnificat Vol I No 3. Rocky River: Magnificat High School, March 18, 1958.

_____. “Frosh Take Octatholon Trophy.” Magnificat Vol 1, No 4. Rocky River: Magnificat High School, June 3, 1958.

_____. “Gymnasts Strive for School Letter.” Magnificat Vol II, No 1. Rocky River: Magnificat High School, November 4, 1958.

_____. “Linda Punts Record.” Magnificat Vol III, No 1. Rocky River: Magnificat High School, December 4, 1959.

_____. Magnificat Blue Streaks Athletic Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. Rocky River: Magnificat High School, April 17, 2015.

_____. “Mrs. Rippon Again to Referee All-Stars; Athletic Association to Sponsor Rally.” Magnificat Vol 4 No 3. Rocky River: Magnificat High School, February 17, 1961.

_____. “Squaws Meet for Sports Pow Wow.” Magnificat Vol. 4, No. 1. Rocky River: Magnificat High School, October 14, 1960.

Magnificat High School, a girls' Catholic college-preparatory high school, founded and sponsored by the Sisters of the Humility of Mary, educates young women holistically to learn, lead, and serve in the spirit of Mary’s Magnificat.