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THE OTHER BABE:
BABE DIDRIKSON

by Archie P. McDonald
Archie McDonald Ph.D.
One of the things I remember about my motherís high school years is that she attended Beaumont High School with "Babe" Didrikson, the outstanding woman athlete of the twentieth century.

The Babe, who earned her nickname from sandlot baseball companions who thought she batted like Babe Ruth, was born in Port Arthur, Texas, on June 26, 1911, to Norwegian immigrants Ole and Hannah Didriksen. The Babe later changed the spelling of the family name slightly.

The Didriksenís moved to Beaumont in 1915, which is how it came about that my mother attended BHS at the same time. Didrikson excelled in high school sports, and so was employed by Employers Casualty Company in Dallas primarily to represent the company in amateur athletics, one of the ways many businesses advertised then. The Babe made the companyís Golden Cyclones national champions.


In 1932, the Babe represented the company in the Amateur Athletic Unionís national track-and-field competition, and won five first place medals and tied for first place in a sixth. This earned her a place on the team that represented the United States in Olympic competition in Los Angles in 1932, where the Babe won gold medals for javelin and hurdles competition, and the silver in high jump.

Didrikson returned to Texas a hero. She participated in exhibition tours during the mid-1930s, primarily to support herself and her family, including a time with a womanís basketball team that competed with men representing the House of David, a religious organization.

Didrikson began to concentrate on golf, and after winning tournament championships easily over what might be called "country club competition," the losers fought back by removing her amateur status. When this was restored, the Babe won every available tournament for women.

Didrikson helped establish the Ladies Professional Golf Association in 1948 and was its leader on the links and off for several years.

On the personal side, Didrikson married professional wrestler George Zaharias in 1938. They had no children. Didrikson developed cancer in 1953, and returned to tournament play after what first appeared to be a victory over the disease. Unfortunately, the disease returned and the Babe passed away in John Sealy Hospital in Galveston on September 27, 1956. The Babe, whose full name was Mildred Ella Didrikson Zaharias, was buried in Beaumont, which also hosts a museum containing memorabilia of Didrikson career as the outstanding woman athlete of the twentieth century.


©
Archie P. McDonald
All Things Historical
September 11, 2005 column
A syndicated column in over 70 East Texas newspapers
This column is provided as a public service by the East Texas Historical Association. Archie P. McDonald is director of the Association and author of more than 20 books on Texas.

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