Legendary athlete had beginnings in Port Arthur

Published 5:36 pm Thursday, October 13, 2016

Both Port Arthur and Beaumont can lay claim to arguably one of the greatest female athletes.

Babe Didrikson Zaharias was born in Port Arthur and lived there until she was preschool aged. The family then moved to Beaumont.

Dr. Sam Monroe, president of the Port Arthur Historical Society, once met her brothers. They lived on Seventh Street in Port Arthur until the 1915 hurricane and flood and moved to Beaumont for higher ground.

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Monroe said she had always been a natural athlete.

“When they were kids they would choose up sides for a team to play ball. She was the only girl and she was always chosen first. They would get in an argument who got to choose first.”

“She threw farther and hit farther. It shows how significant she was as an athlete.”

Monroe added that Didrikson Zaharias was chosen as one of the Top 100 women in the 20th century for the Olympics and being a professional golfer.

At the 1932 Olympic Games, she won two gold medals and a silver medal. She also broke world records in throwing the javelin, the high jump, the softball throw and the 80-meter hurdles.

“She was also a self promoter. She would do stunts to show her prowess. For instance, she once pitched spring training for the St. Louis Cardinals. Unfortunately she died in 1956,” he said.

The text for the historical marker at 2233 Seventh Street in Port Arthur that erected in 1979 is as follows:

(June 26, 1911 – September 27, 1956) One of seven children, Mildred Ella Babe Didrikson was the daughter of Norwegian immigrants Hannah Marie (d. 1945) and Ole Didrikson (d. 1943).

For the first several years of her life, the family occupied a frame house at this location. Later they moved to Beaumont.

The Didriksons encouraged their children to develop their natural athletic abilities. Called Baby by her family, Mildred was later nicknamed Babe for baseball star Babe Ruth.

Babe first demonstrated her athletic skill as a high school basketball star. After training in track and field events, she won two gold medals at the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

An exceptionally versatile athlete, Babe excelled in baseball, bowling, tennis, and other sports. Eventually she concentrated her efforts on golf and won many tournaments as both an amateur and a professional. The Associated Press named her the Woman Athlete of the First Half of the 20th Century.

In 1938 Babe married George Zaharias.

Popular with sports fans for her skill and personality, she won further admiration during a long and courageous battle against cancer. She died in Galveston and was buried in Beaumont.

David Ball: 409-721-2427