Eleanor Kay 'Pete' Hess, 87, longtime coach

Eleanor Kay "Pete" Hess
Eleanor Kay "Pete" Hess
Posted: December 26, 2011

Eleanor Kay "Pete" Hess, 87, formerly of Wallingford, a professor emeritus of physical education at Swarthmore College and longtime coach of women's sports teams there, died of Alzheimer's disease Wednesday, Dec. 14, at Highgate at Paoli Pointe, an assisted-living residence in Paoli.

Ms. Hess joined the Swarthmore faculty in 1957. She chaired the Department of Physical Education and Athletics for Women from 1965 to 1979 and was associate chair of the Department of Physical Education and Athletics from 1979 until retiring in 1990.

"Pete was a fierce advocate for women's athletics at a time when women were not provided the same opportunities as men in collegiate athletics," Swarthmore College president Rebecca Chopp said.

"She was a dynamo," said Ernie Prudente, professor emeritus of physical education at Swarthmore. "Pete had all the women playing sports and really took care of them. She was always smiling, always cheerful, always pleasant to be around."

Over the years, Ms. Hess coached lacrosse, field hockey, badminton, and tennis at Swarthmore.

From 1957 to 1984, she led the lacrosse team to 121 victories. She was inducted into the Pennsylvania Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 2000 and the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 2002. She was a past president and treasurer of the Philadelphia Women's Lacrosse Association; cochaired two WLA National Tournaments; and codirected the 1986 World Cup Lacrosse Tournament at Swarthmore.

As a field hockey coach, also from 1957 to 1984, Ms. Hess led Swarthmore to 140 victories. She was a past president of the Philadelphia College Field Hockey Association. In 1989, she received the NCAA Field Hockey Anne Townsend Award, given annually to someone who has contributed to the development of women's sports.

Ms. Hess was the winningest coach in the history of Swarthmore's badminton program, earning 286 wins during two stints as head coach.

In the 1960s and early 1970, she also coached tennis. One of her players was Sally Ride, America's first female astronaut, who attended Swarthmore from 1968 to 1970.

In 1983, Ms. Hess told The Inquirer she was very proud of Ride. "She always said she wanted to be the first woman astronaut," Ms. Hess said. "It was something we kidded her about."

Ms. Hess was a hockey and lacrosse umpire for 30 years and trained many officials. She was still officiating at games well into her 80s.

"You would see Pete out on the field, officiating youth programs," said Karen Borbee, women's lacrosse coach and former women's hockey coach at Swarthmore.

"Those girls had no idea that the reason they were able to play was because the older woman that was officiating their game had paved the way. Pete was happy to stay in the background and enjoy being a catalyst for the women and girls who followed."

In her honor, the Eleanor Kay Hess Award is presented annually at Swarthmore College to the sophomore woman who demonstrates "love of athletics, leadership, hard work, fairness, and objectivity."

For years, in the summer, Ms. Hess coached at a hockey and lacrosse camp in Vermont. In 1966, in Vermont, she met another coach, Jean Macheath, a native of England. The women became good friends and cowrote an instruction manual for women's field hockey and lacrosse.

Ms. Hess grew up in Northumberland, Pa. She earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1946. Before joining Swarthmore, she was a physical education teacher and coach at Neshaminy High School and George School.

Ms. Hess enjoyed visiting Macheath in England and attended the 2005 ceremony at Buckingham Palace where Macheath was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire for her work with female athletes.

Ms. Hess is survived by a brother, Jim; and nieces and nephews.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Friday, April 13, at Swarthmore Friends Meeting, 12 Whittier Place, on the Swarthmore College campus.


Contact staff writer Sally A. Downey at 215-854-2913 or sdowney@phillynews.com.

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