SENECA FALLS — Hazel Reynolds Westfall’s name isn’t emblazoned on any awards in the Mynderse Academy trophy case, yet the 1958 graduate was a stellar athlete before women were offered a chance to be, well, athletic.
Angie Bantuvanis taught physical education at Mynderse for more than two decades, urging girls to get involved in any sport they could. Loving referred to as “Miss B” by her students, Bantuvanis became the Blue Devils’ first girls soccer coach in 1970.
Both women will be honored, along with the rest of the Mynderse Academy Sports Hall of Fame’s Class of 2012, at the annual dinner and induction ceremony Oct. 6. Reynolds Westfall and Bantuvanis are the first to be inducted into a new “Forerunners to Title IX” category. Its intent: to recognize women who made an athletic impact prior to the 1972 enactment of Title IX.
Although considered an outstanding athlete, Reynolds Westfall never got the opportunity to play on a sports team at Mynderse.
“When we had Hazel’s name submitted [for induction], we couldn’t decide in what category she went,” Hall of Fame committee member Pete Wormuth said. “When we started talking about Title IX, it was a natural fit. She was an excellent athlete, but never had the chance to participate in scholastic sports.”
Reynolds Westfall played intramurals and participated in women’s “play days” throughout high school. She was a member of the Girls’ Athletic Association for three years, served as its president as a senior.
With the help of physical-education teacher Ruby Smith Doane, the GAA was formed in 1945 to encourage girls to participate in sports. The organization helped create “play days” that allowed girls from area schools to compete against each other in various sports.
Reynolds Westfall excelled in this arena, making her athletic abilities no secret among her peers.
“She was terrific at basketball; the boys wouldn’t play against her,” Hazel’s sister, Freda Wilson, recollected. “She was sports all the way. She was good at everything. She used to go hunting with our father.
“Dad had four girls, so we were raised like boys,” Wilson added with a chuckle.
Reynolds Westfall continued to stay involved in sports after graduating from Mynderse.
She taught and organized swimming programs at New York Chiropractic College. Wilson estimates her sister may have taught more than 4,000 kids how to swim over the years.
Reynolds Westfall died last year.
“I think Hazel would be proud to be inducted,” her sister said. “To me she opened the door for the rest of us. We had nothing; girls weren’t allowed to do that. I’m glad, not just for Hazel, but for all of us who followed her.”
Bantuvanis never wanted her female students to feel limited. Longtime athletic director John Nicholson, who retired in 2004, recognized the impact she had.
“She was loved as ‘Miss B.’ She treated everybody the same way, it didn’t matter who you were” Nicholson recalled. “She wanted to make sports fun. She wanted to make it a lifestyle instead of something you do in gym class then forget about it.”
A member of the Ithaca College Athletic Hall of Fame, Bantuvanis taught physical education and was GAA athletic advisor for 23 years. She knew girls could be athletic before such a thing was accepted.
“What she was doing back then was fighting the establishment,” Nicholson described. “She may have gained a few enemies back then, but she knew what she was doing was right. She continued to do all she could to promote athletics in our young ladies. She got them involved in everything. Whatever the boys could do, the girls could too — and Angie spearheaded it. She was really dedicated.”
Nicholson coached the 1982 girls soccer team that blazed new trails of its own, making it all the way to the New York state Class C championship game. That group, which will be enshrined with Reynolds Westfall and Bantuvanis Oct. 6, benefited from all those who toiled before them.
“It took those physical education teachers and coaches who were women to take that opportunity and keep that light lit,” Nicholson concluded.