Adding Bartram, Hall discovers what state has known all along

Bill Tanton

February 04, 1993|By Bill Tanton

For the first time in its 37-year history, the State of Maryland Athletic Hall of Fame is about to become complete.

Twenty-four sports have been represented since the first class was admitted in 1956, consisting of baseball's Babe Ruth, Jimmy Foxx, Home Run Baker and Olympic trackman Robert Garrett.

Despite baseball's head start, football has the most athletes (37) in this Hall of Fame for native Marylanders. Baseball is next with 29. Many sports, such as auto racing, figure skating and yachting, have only one.

On Feb. 15, at the annual induction luncheon at Martin's West, a 25th sport -- jousting -- will be acknowledged.

It happens to be our official state sport.

The jouster to be enshrined is Mary Lou Bartram.

Bartram is the only woman to win both the state and the national championships. She won the state title in 1953, 1956 and 1960, the national championship in 1971 and 1982. She became a charter member of the National Jousting Hall of Fame in 1979. All this by an athlete who has been blind in one eye since infancy.

If it were not for Bartram, jousting might not be Maryland's state sport.

It was she who drafted the legislation that was introduced by the late Del. Henry J. Fowler, of St. Mary's County, passed unanimously by the General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Millard Tawes in 1962.

Yesterday Bartram, wearing a sweat shirt with the words "Jousting -- Maryland's Official Sport" emblazoned across the front, sat in the living room of her Bartram Manor Farm near Aberdeen and talked about being honored.

"I'm thrilled to death that jousting is going in the Maryland Hall of Fame," she said, "more than I'm thrilled about myself going in."

Bartram truly is as proud of her sport as all those football, baseball and lacrosse players (11 of those are in) are of theirs. At 65, she remains an active good will ambassador for the sport.

The day after going in the Hall of Fame she will conduct a 45-minute educational program on jousting at St. Joseph's School in Bethesda. She does this sort of thing a dozen times a year.

"I know there are people who want to see lacrosse or bowling be our state sport," Bartram says, "but we've been jousting in Maryland since 1690, long before lacrosse or bowling ever got here. Coming from Washington College [Class of '48], I know all about lacrosse.

"I think the legislature likes the idea that we're a true amateur sport. There's no money in jousting. There are no scholarships, no betting, no commercialism. Bowling has professionals. There's even a professional lacrosse league.

"In jousting we have four classifications -- novice, amateur, semi-pro and pro. I don't know why we call it pro. Nobody makes any money. We do it because it's fun."

What jousters do is ride on horseback and, with their homemade metal lances, spear rings ranging in size down to one-fourth inch in diameter.

Said to be the oldest equestrian sport in the world, jousting combines medieval costuming, traditions and pageantry with a modern, skillful technique. It's a family sport that can be played -- from childhood into one's 70s.

Bartram started at age 8. She was 54 when she won her last state championship.

"I was born on B Street in Sparrows Point, where my father worked for Bethlehem Steel," she says. "My mother got tired of the dirt living at a steel mill, and we moved to Kingsville for the outdoors and the clean air.

"We had horses there and my brother George, who's two years older than I am, taught me to ride when I was 4 or 5. He started me jousting when I was 8. George and I founded the Maryland State Jousting Association in 1950."

In 1952, Mary Lou, who says she "never had time" to get married, met Alice Blum, who lives with her on the farm today.

"We met in jail," Bartram says, a line that is intended to shock. "Alice was the warden of the women's prison at Jessup. She hired me as a classification counselor."

Bartram retired from the Maryland Division of Corrections in 1981.

"When Mary Lou came to work at Jessup," Alice Blum recalls, "she kept saying Nancy did this, Nancy did that. I asked her who Nancy was. She told me it was her horse. So Mary Lou got me into jousting. I was 43 years old when I started."

Jousters adopt medieval sounding names. Mary Lou competes as "Maid of Bartram Manor." Anne Arundel county Del. Tyrus Athey, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, goes by "Knight of Will If I Can." Philip Clarke is called "Knight of Little Red Wagon."

"His trailer is red," Alice Blum explains.

Entering the Hall of Fame with Bartram will be ex-football stars Otts Brandau and Jean Fugett and tennis' Pam Shriver.

Tickets for the luncheon and ceremony are available from the Hall of Fame's executive secretary, D. Chester O'Sullivan, at 659-6315.

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