Elisabeth Shellenberger, 98, of Philadelphia, a standout player, coach, and official whose ongoing dedication to field hockey helped establish it as a national and international sport, died Monday, Dec. 30, 2019, of respiratory failure at St. Joseph Villa, Flourtown.
Miss Shellenberger, who was called “Betty” or “Shelly,” was known as a matriarch of the sport. She picked up a hockey stick at age 10, and the game defined her for decades, USA Field Hockey, the sport’s governing body, said in a message posted Jan. 4.
She played at Agnes Irwin School in Bryn Mawr and at Mount Pocono Hockey Camp, which helped establish the sport in the United States.
Since no college competition existed for the sport in 1939, when Miss Shellenberger graduated from Agnes Irwin, she skipped college and went on the road as a field hockey player based at the Philadelphia Cricket Club. She continued to play for the next 30 years.
At age 18, she was the youngest athlete to make the U.S. Women’s National Team. She was a starter on the team from 1939 to 1941, from 1946 to 1955, and again in 1960, and spent two years on the national reserve squad, logging a record for years served, USA Field Hockey said.
When she stopped playing, she became a national umpire. Because of her commitment to the game, the USA Field Hockey Association created the Shellenberger Umpiring Award, which recognizes long-term service on and off the playing field.
“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, in a statement. “She was a huge supporter of USA Field Hockey and helped the organization develop. She will be dearly missed.”
Miss Shellenberger represented the U.S. at four international tournaments and during 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, a former USA Field Hockey president.
Miss Shellenberger was head coach at Chestnut Hill College from 1964 to 1977, supervising both field hockey and lacrosse teams. She also coached field hockey at Friends Select School and the now-defunct Stevens School.
Because of her dedication to both sports, she was admitted to the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame in 1986, the USA Field Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988, the Agnes Irwin School Athletic Hall of Fame in 2005, and the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame in 2009.
She was a coauthor of the 1969 book Field Hockey, and served on the International Hockey Federation’s rules board from 1967 to 1990.
Born in Germantown to Charles Dixcy Shellenberger and Elisabeth Lincoln Shellenberger, she lived in the same home on School House Lane for 75 years. While a senior at Agnes Irwin, she made her debut in Philadelphia society.
At the start of World War II in 1941, she joined the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve. She was based at Air Station El Toro in Southern California, serving as an aviation mechanic until she was discharged several years later.
She immersed herself in the history of Germantown and became so proficient in telling its story that she conducted tours at Cliveden, a historic house at 6401 Germantown Ave. where the 1777 Battle of Germantown was fought.
She was president and cofounder of Historic Germantown. The nonprofit is a partnership of 18 historic houses and museums in Northwest Philadelphia that seeks to showcase the past.
She was a member of the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America, a member of Strawberry Mansion in Fairmount Park, and treasurer of the Committee of 1926, a Philadelphia historical society.
Miss Shellenberger kept active until late in life as a high school umpire for local track-and-field events and swimming championships. She bowled and played tennis, squash, and golf.
She is survived by two nephews; a niece; and great-nieces and nephews. Her brother died earlier.