Wheeling’s Women Are Slam Dunks Stacey Miller Sacco May 4, 2020 Wheeling loves sports. This is evident by the high participation in every Ohio Valley Athletic Conference event. You know it when you see the hundreds of people who come to Wheeling for Super Six weekend or Beast of the East tournaments. The abundance of tennis courts, soccer fields and golf courses attests to the fact that people in Wheeling are invested in sports. With this passion, comes the drive to make sure that everyone has access to participate in team sports. Women have always had a place on the field in Wheeling, and they shine in any position they choose. ROSE GACIOCH Rose Gacioch was born in 1915 in Wheeling. She had three siblings, including an older brother Steve who taught her to pitch a baseball. Rose’s father died before she was born; she was raised by her mother and stepfather in South Wheeling. When she was in elementary school at St. Ladislaus Grade School, she snuck out of school to watch Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig play locally in an exhibition game. Her family’s financial situation prevented her from attending high school, and then her mother passed away when she was 16. She lied about her age to secure employment at Wheeling Corrugating. In her free time, she was the only girl playing on the boys’ semi-professional Little Cardinals baseball team in Wheeling. In 1934, the president of Wheeling Corrugating attended a game and was impressed with Rose’s performance. He asked the manager of the All-Star Ranger Girls, a Bloomer Girls team, to come to Wheeling to watch Rose play. She played one season for the Bloomer Girls before the league dissolved in favor of softball for women. During the World War II era, Rose was working in a factory when tryouts for the All-American Professional Women’s Baseball League were held at Pulaski Field in South Wheeling. She secured a position on the South Bend Blue Sox at age 29 — an age most believed was too old to play baseball. This didn’t stop Rose for a second. Instead, it made her more confident of her choice to do what she loved. Her rights were sold to the Rockford Peaches in 1945, and this is where the familiar story of Rose’s life picks up in the blockbuster film, A League of Their Own. While playing outfield, Rose set a league record for assists. As a pitcher, she pitched a no-hitter in 1953 and was the league’s only 20-game winner. She was voted an All-Star three years in a row, 1952-54. (Rosie O’Donnell played the character Rosie in the film.) Rose played an unprecedented 11 seasons and left an indelible mark on the sport of baseball. Her pitching was so stunning, the league started to allow overhand pitching in 1947. She also set batting records, only striking out 162 times in nearly 3,000 at-bats. In 1988, the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, opened a Women in Baseball exhibit, and Rose was there to reveal her niche. When A League of Their Own premiered in 1992, she started to receive fan mail. She carefully and thoughtfully replied to each letter until her death in 2004. MARY E. “FRITZI” STIFEL QUARRIER Mary Stifel was the granddaughter of famed calico producer Johann Stifel. Born in 1904, she grew up in Edemar, what is now the Stifel Fine Arts Center on National Road. Mary had two passions in her life. She studied violin at Finch College in New York City, and then returned to Wheeling as a founding member of the Wheeling Symphony. Her second love was golf, which was a family event. She won the West Virginia Women’s golf association amateur championship by age 23. That win in 1927 was the first of her 10 championships in just 13 years. In the 1920s, she played in the National Women’s Golf Association Tournament and was ranked seventh in the nation. As a player in the Canadian Women’s Tournament, she qualified for the finals. In 1930, she traveled to Brittan and represented the U.S. as a member of the U.S. Women’s International Golf Team in the British Women’s Amateur Golf Association Tournament. Fritzi (far left) golfing a round at the Wheeling Country Club. Mary won the Mason-Dixon Title in 1934 and played in 10 U.S. Amateur Tournaments, reaching the semi-finals in 1935. Fritzi was recognized for her exceptional talent. She was the first recipient of the Amateur Athlete of the Year in 1934 and was an inaugural inductee to the City of Wheeling Hall of Fame. In 1963, she became the first woman to be recognized by the West Virginia Sports Hall of Fame. AMY GAMBLE Amy Gamble is one of two Olympic athletes born in Wheeling. (Bruce Meredith who competed in shooting events was the other.) With two older sisters who were active in sports, she recalls always being involved in backyard games as a child. “I’ve always love sports,” Amy says. She was a standout basketball player at John Marshall High School and named the 1982 West Virginia Women’s Basketball Player of the Year. She also set records in shot put and discus in high school. As a junior in high school, she was invited to New York City where she was taken to her first handball game. “My coach took me and said he thought I would be good at it,” she remembers. She was recruited by Tennessee to play basketball and later transferred to West Virginia University. After just one season there, she decided to focus on handball. She trained in Michigan and then spent two-and-a-half years in Colorado Springs before making a run for the Pan-American Games championship. Only the winner of that contest can compete in the Olympics, and Amy was a member of the 1988 U.S. Women’s Handball team to do just that. The team competed at the Olympics in Seoul, Korea. “It was the greatest honor to represent my country on a world stage. I’m so proud of where I’m from,” she says. As always, the Wheeling community provided great support to Amy and her athletic accomplishments. Mercantile Bank in Moundsville financially sponsored her during her career. WesBanco Arena hosted a handball game of the U.S. and Russian team. More than 2,000 people came out to support the hometown champion. Amy had the opportunity to travel the world with the team. Handball is incredibly popular in other parts of the world, so she frequently went on tours in Europe, South America and Asia. After her world tour, she entered corporate America and found she had an advantage because of her athletic training. “Business is all about working with a team. I don’t have to like everyone, but I can get along with them and work together with people from diverse backgrounds. Sports are the great equalizer. I immediately had respect and was accepted in a corporate setting because I was an Olympic athlete,” Amy acknowledges. After living in many different cities and traveling the world, Amy has settled in Wheeling. “I like being home. It’s good for my mental health to be here,” says Amy, who has made a mark on Wheeling as the former executive director of NAMI in Wheeling and currently a mental health advocate with SpeakUp4MentalHealth. • Stacey Sacco is a Wheeling native. She is a content writer and the former production editor of InWheeling Magazine. She reluctantly left Wheeling in 2019 for her husband’s job and now lives in Fairfield, Pennsylvania, with her husband and four children. 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