A column by JOHN ANDERSON
As soon as the snow melted in the spring of 1975, a piece of paper was hanging outside the girls’ gym at Wellsville High School for a new sport.
Varsity softball sign-ups.
Valerie “Babe” Meyers saw the signup sheet and said, ‘Why not?’ She was a senior.
The team had a coach. Diane Mountain volunteered. Her husband Bob was a coach at Wellsville and was well-respected, so they were pleased to get Diane.
When Meyers started at Wellsville High School, there were no organized sports for girls other than tennis. By her junior year there was basketball, soccer and track.
“We just played outside. We threw rocks, skipped rocks in the Genesee River,” Meyers said.
The boys’ teams were well-established. The 1927 football team won a state championship.
The girls soccer team was told to bring a white t-shirt and shorts to games. The coach handed out a marker. The girls wrote their number on the shirt.
“We didn’t care that the boys all had uniforms for each sport, we were just glad to play. We were so happy,” Meyers recalled. “Whatever we wore, it was from home and it was comfortable.”
During softball her senior year, the school handed out a t-shirt and socks. The girls had to wear their own shorts. Meyers didn’t care.
The field between the high school and the middle school was mowed, a small backstop was put up and the first ever Wellsville softball game was played. In the bottom of the first, Meyers stepped up and belted a home run. And then another. She went 6-for-6.
The legend of The Babe was born.
“I remember my first at bat, there was a picture in the Wellsville Daily Reporter. I hit a home run!” she said.
On Friday night, Babe Meyers and her family walked onto the football field under the bright lights at halftime of the homecoming football game. She was being inducted into the Wellsville High School Sports Hall of Fame.
Her accomplishments were read, but no stats. They are nearly impossible to find.
“We played maybe eight or nine games in each sport,” she said. “We did go to sectionals in soccer but we didn’t get too far.
“There weren’t a lot of people at the games. We played in fields … It was nothing like this,” she said, pointing to the multi-million dollar all-turf facility at Wellsville for soccer, track and football,” Babe continued. “I remember playing a game in Bolivar, we were on some field up on a hill, it was just some field!”
By the time she graduated, “We actually had some people coming to the games!”
Thanks to the legend of The Babe.
Her incredible athletic ability had residents of Wellsville talking and started to take notice about this new girls’ sports movement.
In gym class, Jan Post noticed she was the best in class. Wellsville Hall of Famer Lou Molisani, who coached football, basketball and was a gym teacher told her, “Babe, you could play for my boys’ team!”
She wanted to. After all, up until 1975, the girls basketball coach had to pick which two girls could cross the mid-court line and play both offense and defense. They were called rovers. You designated three or four girls to play only defense or only offense and they had to stay on their side of the court. Everyone wanted to be a rover and play both. The rules-makers must have felt each school did not have enough athletic girls to run up and down the court.
The fifth sport she had an opportunity to letter in was track and field. As the boys threw the shot put and discus, the girls got to throw a softball. The softball throw. So Babe excelled in that as well.
“The big item in track and field for girls was the softball throw, so I did the softball throw,” she said. I asked her, ‘Were girls were really reduced to that? A softball throw?’ Babe laughed and said, “Yes. It was a long time ago!”
As the ceremony ended on the track, a fellow Class of 2022 Hall of Fame inductee Alyssa (Smith) Wixson walked by. In high school, Alyssa wasn’t handed a softball for the field events. She was able to throw a shot put and compete in the same events as the boys. She re-wrote every record, winning three Section V titles in the discus and three in the shot put, helping her team to an overall Section V title.
“It was really good to hear tonight what (Alyssa) accomplished and good to see two other females go in with me,” Meyers said. “There are some great women athletes here tonight and Wellsville has had some great women athletes, it’s been really cool.”
The 2022 class featured three women and one male. Rayanna Anderson (basketball, softball and soccer) along with Ethan Lamphier (wrestling, football).
Meyers was stunned to hear about Wellsville Section V title game win Rayanna played in. Babe played and practiced in a basement gym with walls still stained from the Flood of 72. The girls on the 2016 team played in front of an overflowed crowd at Rush-Henrietta with a huge crowd of community members and students from Wellsville.
How good was Meyers? The legend of her abilities were enough to get her drafted for the 1976 season by the Buffalo Breskis, a Women’s Professional Softball Team that was hoping to knock off the Southern California Gems and win the national title. The team was named after the owner, Henry Breskis, whose daughter, Carol Breskis played first base. When Henry sold the team in 1978 to Tim Maloney, they became the Buffalo Bisons.
After one season, Meyers moved to Florida to play travel softball. In 1978, she was on the women’s slow pitch national championship team. But she knew there might not be a future for women in professional sports, so she went to college and played basketball.
Meyers then worked for Dean Foods for 37 years and was a manager of a dairy processing plant.
While she was gone, Wellsville had a new appreciation for girls sports thanks to Babe.
The torch was passed.
Shelley (Kiefer) Chaffee was the next star, picking up in the late 70’s before graduating in 1982 and playing two sports in college. Chaffee is also in the Hall of Fame. Tami Johnson picked up where Babe left off in basketball. She played three sports including softball at Mansfield University. Lisa (Marriotti) Wemett then dominated in swimming and track. Linda Edgley was on the first teams to actually get a uniform. The crowds came out to see Lisa Potter Lewis, Kate Hetzel Ostrowski and the volleyball team dominated the 80’s with Section V titles. The other teams started to catch up.
As Babe was wrapping up her interview, current Wellsville girls’ basketball coach Michelle Alvord was waiting to say hi. Alvord was a direct benefit of what Babe passed on to the other teams and girls. She played four sports and was on the New York State Final Four team.
The trailblazing timeline Babe started doesn’t stop there.
To the right of Alvord was the female athletic director, Erica (Pease) Aftuck. And the female Wellsville High School Principal Mary Ellen O’Connell, who also won a Section V title as a girls’ basketball coach.
The Legend of the Babe wasn’t limited to ability. There was also character.
In 1975, she won the Terry Norris Sportsmanship Award as a senior.
Living in Indiana, she doesn’t get back to Wellsville. But she was impressed.
“I haven’t been back much, it’s been many years,” she said. “I was here several years ago and Main Street was dead. Tonight, I drove through and it was REALLY bustling! Things look like they have picked back up, it’s pretty cool.”
The wall outside the high school gym is lined with Hall of Fame plaques. Hers will be joining them. And there are a lot of female athletes. She will be on a wall staring across to Jill and Jessica Regan, Nicole (Whitwood) Carey, Kila (Green) Cook, Carrie (Dobstaff) Willit, McLaughlin’s, Lopers, Szabo’s … and so many other great women who played sports at Wellsville.
“This is a real honor … and to see how many girls are in the hall of fame … ” Meyers said. “It’s cool, it makes me feel good to see how far they have come. When I was in school, I never thought it would be like this today. We never even thought it could happen.”
It happened. And it happened sooner than later because of Hall of Famer, Valerie “Babe” Meyers.