Springfield pioneer in women’s sports dies

A Springfield native considered a pioneer in women’s athletics and who had a lengthy career at Wittenberg University has died.

Betty J. Dillahunt, 95, was described as a “legend as a youngster” in the city in a time when women weren’t encouraged to participate in sports, said Sarah Jurewicz, Wittenberg associate athletic director, senior women’s administrator and head women’s basketball coach.

RELATED: First female Wittenberg science prof leaves $2.3M to university

“When she was growing up, athletics for women were frowned upon and not at all supported,” said Jurewicz, also a Wittenberg alum.

Dillahunt, who died Sunday, graduated from Wittenberg in 1946 with a Bachelor’s in health and physical education. Before graduating, she was offered a teaching job with the school.

“They asked if I (would) teach some service courses. We called them then activities courses. So, the last semester I was here, I taught some classes,” Dillahunt said in an earlier recorded interview with Wittenberg leaders.

She taught a few classes before moving to Buffalo, N.Y., to work at the YMCA and to pitch for a local softball team as part of the All American Professional Girls Baseball League, the sport featured in the movie “A League of Their Own.”

DETAILS: Springfield woman named as a top female leader in region

Her career could have started earlier in the sport but she turned it down to finish college.

Dillahunt later came back to Springfield and began her career at Wittenberg as an administrator, coach, professor and emerita director of athletics. She coached nine sports and is credited with starting the school’s field hockey program.

She is one of the main reasons, along with many others, why women’s athletics received a fairer budget, according to the recorded Wittenberg interview with Dillahunt.

A former student said Dillahunt is the reason she attended Wittenberg.

“I felt she was someone I wanted to be around and have as my mentor, teach me and help me grow,” said Pat Clouse, also a former professor. “When I was ever reluctant to do things … she would give me that extra push and encouraged me to do it.”

In addition to being an innovator, many awards and honors are attached to her name.

READ MORE: Wittenberg students mentor middle schoolers

She pitched seven World Championship Softball games, won 11 Springfield Women’s Golf Championships, placed fifth in the 1957 United States Golf Association Championship and played field hockey for 24 years, eventually being named to the United States Women’s National team.

Wittenberg’s softball field is named the Betty Doughman Dillahunt Softball Field for her.

Clouse said one of her fondest memories of Dillahunt was a day after they played golf. As they were walking away from the course, Dillahunt said, “Well, you finally did it.”

“Did what?” Clouse asked.

“You finally beat me,” Dillahunt said.

Clouse said she didn’t even know she’d been keeping score all these years in the sport Dillahunt pushed her to learn.

At the gathering before Dillahunt’s funeral this week, Jurewicz talked to one of her nieces. She asked her when was the last time Dillahunt competed in an athletic event. Dillahunt played in a golf tournament three years ago, at the age of 92, in Florida, the niece said.

That’s classic Dillahunt, Jurewicz said.

About the Author