Elma Hewitt helped girls sports gain traction, particularly in basketball, volleyball and tennis

 - Elma Hewitt, seen here playing with her great-great niece Tilly Webber, will be inducted into the Forest Grove Athletic Hall of Fame this fall.When it comes to girls sports, Forest Grove High School has long been successful.

The softball team has been a perennial state playoff contender since its inception and claimed a state championship in 2007. The basketball team has won league titles, made state tournament appearances and produced NCAA Division I talent.

The track and field and cross-country squads have long been churning out accomplished athletes at both the district and state levels, and just recently, the swim and golf teams have produced individual state champions.

Those are just some of the success Vikings girls have scored for Forest Grove and all part of a series of successes that can, at least in part, be traced back to Elma Hewitt.

Starting in 1961, Hewitt was a coach and physical education teacher at the high school for some 20 years. She helped put girls sports on the map at Forest Grove, ushering them from playdays and essentially intramural status into the post-Title IX era.

“She was the forefront of women’s sports at the high school -- she really was -- so that is the reason I nominated her (for the Athletic Hall of Fame),” said Sue Fleskes, Hewitt’s former coworker at Forest Grove, who recently retired from her post as the school’s cross-country coach. “There’s really no one else.”

A woman who grew up without many athletic opportunities, Hewitt coached Forest Grove’s first girls teams in volleyball, basketball and tennis. She started out in the relatively informal Girls Athletic Association and then, after Title IX, in the Coast-Valley and Willamette Valley leagues.

For her contributions, Hewitt has been selected to Forest Grove’s Athletic Hall of Fame. She will be officially inducted as a member of the school’s fifth class during a banquet ceremony scheduled for Oct. 4 at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club in North Plains.

“It’s quite an honor, I think,” Hewitt said by phone from Salem, where she lives in an adult retirement community.

Now almost 88, Hewitt grew up in Albany during a time when relatively few opportunities existed in sports for women and girls. She did participate in physical education classes during school, learned to swim and played active games with friends, as that was what was available to her.

Then she enrolled at Oregon State.

“I made it my career, but it wasn’t my first choice,” she says of becoming a physical education teacher. “I was going to work until the World War II was over and then go to college, but I couldn’t stand it.”

So she enrolled in winter term in the engineering school before switching over to physical education, where she learned about all types of sports through her classes. After graduating in 1950, she started her teaching career, eventually landing at Forest Grove in 1961.

She headed up the school’s first tennis team, as the school didn’t yet have a boys team, nor did it have tennis courts at first. So she and her girls secured other practice courts, including an asphalt one at a private residence.

“This tennis court was just an old dilapidated thing, and it had broken glass all over it and everything else,” Hewitt said. “And the kids went and cleaned everything up. I think we played on that for two years until they built a court at the high school.”

Early on in Hewitt’s career at Forest Grove, her girls played in the GAA, which provided somewhat casual, intramural-types of opportunities for girls to play sports rather than the more rigorous interscholastic ones girls across the country enjoy today.

Hewitt coached Marie Redner in volleyball and basketball before Redner graduated in 1969, and the two still keep in contact through yearly Christmas letters.

Redner recalls Hewitt as a coach and educator who was fair, who didn’t play favorites, and who advocated for the organization and recognition of girls’ sports. She taught her pupils persistence and lessons that transferred to from the classroom to the real world.

“It’s so hard because she’s just a feeling,” Redner said. “It’s a memory and a feeling, and I look back on it. She’s really affected my life, and she has for years -- and she still does.”

In addition to her work with the girls volleyball, basketball and tennis teams, Hewitt also helped facilitate the first girls track team at the school, and she even taught a little tumbling before the gymnastics program was started.

Hewitt also mentored a young Fleskes, who came along about 10 years after Hewitt started at Forest Grove and coached gymnastics, track and cross-country.

“Elma was always a real advocate for women’s sports and equality in girls’ sports,” Fleskes said. “She was just tireless in the energy she put into the girls she coached.”

Hewitt excelled working with students in one-on-one settings, Fleskes noted, and she incorporated life skills into her PE curriculum, teaching units such as golf, volleyball and archery.

She also served as fundraiser and driver for her teams, shuttling them around in a WWII surplus vehicle. She finally started getting paid for her coaching work after Title IX, which bars discrimination in education settings based on sex.

After leaving the high school, Hewitt taught fourth grade for several years before retiring. These days, she still golfs about once a week in nice weather.

And next month, she will be honored for her legacy.

“I’m totally thrilled for her,” Redner said. “It couldn’t happen to a better person. It really couldn’t. She is so deserving. She has affected a lot of young women’s lives.”

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