BOB WEST ON GOLF: Pate tells world about Zaharias at Aurora Games

Published 12:03 am Wednesday, August 28, 2019

W.L. Pate Jr., like his father before him, is a tireless and devoted promoter in his role as president of the Babe Zaharias Foundation.

Consequently, traveling to Albany, New York last week to extol the legendary Babe’s accomplishments at the inaugural Aurora Games was right in the Beaumont city councilman’s wheelhouse.

“It was such an honor to be there and to talk about Babe,” said Pate. “I assume some of the athletes knew little if anything about her, so it was a great opportunity to expand awareness when I spoke on Monday night. I challenged them to Google her, then I told them about the young girl who rewrote all the records.

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“It was especially gratifying when the coach of the hockey team, Digit Murphy, came up to me later and asked me to talk more about Babe with the athletes on her team.”

The brainchild of Jerry Solomon, husband of illustrious former figure skater Nancy Kerrigan, the Aurora Games was a six-sport female competition pitting professional athletes from America against the world. Sports in the games included basketball, tennis, ice hockey, gymnastics, figure skating and beach volleyball.

To salute the woman Pate and many others consider the greatest female athlete of all time, the winning team was presented a unique Babe Zaharias trophy. It featured silhouettes of Zaharias swinging a golf club, throwing a javelin, playing basketball and throwing a baseball.

Babe’s greatness, of course, was defined not only by winning LPGA championships and Olympic gold medals but by the fact she excelled in numerous sports.

When the concept of the Aurora Games was announced last winter, Solomon explained to Pete Dougherty of the Albany Times why the teams would be competing for a Babe Zaharias trophy. His words amplify why keeping Zaharias’ name relevant is a non-stop challenge for Pate and the Zaharias foundation.

“We found through our research and through some focus groups and other things that one of the things that really differentiates men’s sports from women’s sports is knowledge of the history of men’s sports vs. women’s sports,” said Solomon. “If you ask virtually anybody in America who Babe Ruth is, most of them know. I ask my 10-year-old daughter who Babe Ruth is — she doesn’t know anything about baseball — she knows who Babe Ruth is.

“If you ask those same people who Babe Didrikson Zaharias is, a vast majority of them will have no idea. To me, that crystallizes the issue because Babe Zaharias was a far better athlete than Babe Ruth. She didn’t eat as much, wasn’t in as high profile of a sport, but she was just a phenomenal athlete who paved the way for a lot of things that have come since.

“We felt that to honor that history and to make history part of the Aurora Games, we thought we would start by naming the perpetual trophy after Babe Zaharias.”

Solomon’s words were music to Pate’s ears. So were verbal tributes about Babe from the likes of team captains Jackie Joyner Kersee and Nadia Comaneci and from Kerrigan. He was extremely pleased to learn the Aurora Games, despite attendance falling shy of expectations, has been extended in Albany for 2021 and 2023.

“It’s a terrific event that will grow in stature,” he said. “The mayor of Albany, the Lieutenant Governor of New York and some other heavyweights are behind it. Because of the spotlight it puts on Babe, and because of the opportunities for female athletes, I really want to see it succeed.”

Pate’s ambassadorship on behalf of Zaharias went beyond talking about her.

He took copies of Don Van Natta’s outstanding book — Wonder Girl — Babe Zaharias dolls, medallions and posters to be sold. He distributed special business cards with a photo of the Zaharias Museum in the right-hand corner.

He also secured a promise of a trophy replica to be put on display in the museum.

With the Aurora Games mission a success, Pate’s next significant project is pushing whatever buttons he can with the Texas congressional delegation to convince President Trump that Zaharias should receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Not only is Babe deserving, but the surrounding publicity of who she was and what she accomplished would be a Godsend.

“I honestly believe it’s going to happen,” Pate said. “I would bet on it happening. There are so many reasons it should happen.”

Coming up: Bob West’s Chip Shots