Mary Elizabeth Lang dies at 90

Revered Howard High School field hockey coach had long winning streak and preached good sportsmanship

May 23, 2010|By Jacques Kelly, The Baltimore Sun

Mary Elizabeth "Betty" Lang, a retired Howard County high school coach whose winning teams earned her a place in the Howard High School Athletic Hall of Fame, died of pneumonia Monday at Seasons Hospice at Northwest Hospital Center. The Ellicott City resident was 90.

She was the first full-time female physical-education teacher to be employed by Howard County.

Born in Morgantown, W.Va., she earned a bachelor's degree in physical education from West Virginia University, where she also earned a master's degree.

In 1941, she became Howard County's first women's full-time physical education teacher and coach. Friends said that soon after she began teaching, she picked up added responsibilities when many male teachers and coaches went into the military during World War II. For a period in the mid-1940s, she also coached the boys basketball team.

"All the men were in the service. We won the county title," she told a Baltimore Sun reporter in 1976.

She taught at the old Ellicott City Junior-Senior High School and Howard High School. She retired in 1976 after 35 years of teaching and was awarded a Governor's Citation in appreciation for her years of service. At times she coached tennis, track, badminton, softball, basketball, volleyball and field hockey.

A 1976 Sun article about her "incredible career" described her as "the foundation of the girls' interscholastic sports program at Howard High." She coached 54 undefeated teams and compiled a record of 1,348 victories and 172 defeats, with a few ties. From 1968 to 1972, her Howard High field hockey team went undefeated in 63 consecutive games.

"I always had good material to work with, a lot of good kids," she said. "And lots of luck."

Rick Oursler, Howard's field hockey coach, said Miss Lang "did everything she could to give her girls a positive self-image."

The Betty Lang Field Hockey Tournament is run each September and honors her contributions, Mr. Oursler said. She attended the event until her health began to fail several years ago.

"She was always analyzing the game," Mr. Oursler said.

Gail Purcell, a Centennial High School physical-education teacher and retired coach, was one of Miss Lang's students.

"She was old-school and believed in the basics. It carried over into our lives," Ms. Purcell said. "She was a disciplinarian who believed in good sportsmanship. She worked to develop the whole child. As a student, you automatically respected Miss Lang. She was the pioneer of girls athletics in Howard County."

She recalled that her former coach "held all her students at the same level." By doing so, and not playing favorites, she "instilled great confidence."

When Miss Lang retired in 1976, she told a Morgantown sports columnist that the most disappointing trend she had noticed "was the steady decline in sportsmanship." She lamented there was "much more booing, especially at the officials, than there used to be." She also said that in her 35 years, she had noted "a tremendous improvement in skills."

After retirement, Miss Lang traveled extensively and enjoyed a cottage she kept near the Susquehanna River at Havre de Grace. She also enjoyed needlepoint.

"She was a private person who had a good sense of humor," said her great-niece, Audra Cox of Ellicott City. "She had a real love of life and never missed sending a card on any of her relatives' birthdays."

She also liked eating at local restaurants and was a patron of the Crab Shanty on Baltimore National Pike.

"Every time she went in, she met a former student," her great-niece said.

She was a member of the Lambda Chapter of Delta Kappa Gamma, the Women's Athletics Hall of Fame and the Howard High School Athletic Hall of Fame.

Services were held Friday in Morgantown.

Survivors include other nieces and nephews.

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