Lacrosse Hall nets nothing but shame with omission of Stieber

John Steadman

January 03, 1992|By John Steadman

Any roll call intended to incorporate a lineup of the all-time great athletes in the history of Maryland would appropriately enunciate the name Fred Stieber loud and clear. His record stands alone because of the way he played such a diversity of sports with innate skill, intensity and grand success. As for versatility, he was in a class by himself.

The Maryland Athletic Hall of Fame enshrined him in 1970, recognizing extraordinary achievements in lacrosse, swimming, diving, football, basketball, tennis, soccer, field hockey and badminton. An incredible competitor who taxed himself to the maximum and never wanted to admit to slowing down finally had the fires of life burn out when death called at age 82.

But not before establishing a reputation over six decades that set him apart. Stieber was a designated winner. If a game had to be won, get him the ball and he'd find a way to do it. During a lifetime of athletic combat, his play under pressure earned respect and admiration.

At Towson High, he played soccer, basketball and baseball. But at the University of Maryland he was on a football team that tied a highly ranked Yale team in 1929 and two years later on a basketball squad that won the Southern Conference by beating Kentucky, 29-27.

Maryland didn't have swimming but he organized a group of school mates and finished second in the conference meet. Through three years of varsity lacrosse, Maryland twice beat Johns Hopkins, then as now, a reigning power. Instead of putting sports behind him after graduation, he was only just getting started.

Stieber concentrated on diving, competing nationally; then to tennis and badminton. In field hockey, he won the right to play in the 1948 Olympics but had to withdraw because of an injury. He still hadn't quit lacrosse, playing for Mount Washington and, during World War II, the Johns Hopkins Club team, a year when he scored 12 goals in games against Army and Navy.

Gardner Mallonee, the Hopkins coach, not given to exaggeration, simply said, "He's one of the best." And then William "Dinty" Moore, the Navy leader, shook his head in admiration and remarked, "The man is one of the best of all-time and gets better as he goes along."

But in one of the great inequities, and something that is an embarrassment to lacrosse, he was never elected to its Hall of Fame. This goes back to the early years of the hall's establishment when one of the men putting together the criteria decided points should be given for coaching and officiating to promote himself. It was a sham that was a shame.

All Stieber could do was play. In a 1947 epic, he, along with the gifted Billy "The Kid" Hooper, combined to lead Mount Washington to a 6-5 win over Hopkins. The things Stieber could do off the crease bordered on the unbelievable. He fired blind shots from over his shoulder, could feint, -- and dodge with deception and finesse. Almost an acrobat.

He operated a grocery and import business his father founded in 1900 but almost every day of his adult life, even until a month ago, got in some type of physical workout. His daughters Sudie and Araby said he was pleased when they, too, played tennis but didn't force them.

"A remarkable thing about my father," said Sudie, "is at age 20 he was diagnosed as having an irregular heartbeat. That didn't prevent him from being involved in sports. He played for the love of it and for all those years."

Yes, and never for a dollar. Stieber was an amateur in the purest concept. He said of all his athletic involvements that diving was different from all the rest. "Each separate dive in competition," he explained, "is a start of a game. You don't get the opportunity to lose your nervousness before you have to perform. It's not like kicking off in football when you're only tense for a moment or two. You are up there on the board all alone. Diving is different."

He also said the full-arm movement in tennis felt unnatural as opposed to shooting a lacrosse ball, throwing a football or hitting baseball, where wrist action is important. His philosophy was, "Play for the fun you get out of it. That way, you'll last a long time."

The Stieber family will be receiving friends at the Ruck Funeral Home in Towson between 5 and 7 p.m. tomorrow, following semi-private grave services earlier in the day. His ongoing athletic activity meant, year in and year out, decade after decade, that he never rusted out.

Failure of Fred Stieber to be included in the Lacrosse Hall of Fame is the result of petty jealousies on the part of some men he never respected but who, in turn, couldn't carry his stick. In life, he failed to receive the honor. Now, in death, the consciences of those doing the voting will influence them to finally right a wrong he never personally complained about. Locking him out was a woeful, unjustifiable omission that became so ridiculous you don't know whether it's more fitting to laugh or cry.

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