October 17, 2014

Widener Inducts First Class Into Its Athletic Hall of Fame

Chester, PA  – Widener celebrated its past in grand style by inducting its first class into the University’s new Athletics Hall of Fame.

The distinguished principles include former football coach and director of athletics Bill Manlove, former football running back and kick returner Billy “White Shoes” Johnson, former track & field coach and director of athleticsGeorge A. Hansell Jr., philanthropist Fitz Dixon Jr. and the five All-Americas from the 1977 women’s swimming team that include Donna Bender, Doreen (McGowan) Nixon, Linda Fleck, Patty (Leayman) Norton and Marsha (Reinecker) Oropollo.

One of the true gentlemen in all of athletics, Manlove coached football from 1969-91 and guided the team to NCAA Division III Championships in 1977 and 1981.  He also was a part of 10 Middle Atlantic Conference championships, seven NCAA Tournament appearances and four undefeated regular seasons.  During his time, 31 of Widener’s student-athletes were tabbed All-America, three were drafted by National Football League teams and 20 were signed by professional squads.  Manlove, who also is the school’s former director of athletics, is the program’s winningest coach with a 182-53-1 record.  Widener was 9-5 in the NCAA Tournament during his time, 2-0 in the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl, and was honored as MAC Coach of the Year nine times.  He was named AFCA Division II-III National Coach of the Year in 1977 and Regional/District Coach of the Year in 1977 and 1980.  Manlove also has been ECAC Committee Chair and MAC President.  Manlove also was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2012, the Delaware County Athletics Hall of Fame later that year, the Camden County Sports Hall of Fame in 2008 and the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame in 2009.

One of the most colorful and amazing open field runners in college football, Johnson graduated with over 20 school, game, season and career records.  During his time at Widener (1971-73), he shattered no less than nine all-time NCAA marks and 12 Middle Atlantic Conference records.  Johnson scored 62 career touchdowns, rushed for 3,737 yards and accounted for 5,404 all-purpose yards.  He was named All-American in 1972 and 1973 by both the American Football Coaches Association and the Associated Press. Johnson also was part of the first class inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1996.  His play helped build the foundation for the national championship teams that were to follow.  Johnson went on to play for the Houston Oilers, the Atlanta Falcons and the Washington Redskins in the NFL as well the Montreal Alouettes in the CFL.  He was named to the NFLs 75th Anniversary All-Time Team as a punt returner in 1994.

Hansell enjoyed a storied career that influenced the trajectory of Widener Athletics as well as the Middle Atlantic Conference.  He spent 38 years with PMC/Widener that included nine as the football coach, totaling a 50-23 mark that was the second-best win total in school history at the time.  The team won the MAC with a 7-0 mark in 1954 and also captured the league crown in 1958.  Hansell coached PMCs track & field team from 1946-1974, notching a 138-51-1 record.  The team won six MAC titles, recorded four undefeated seasons and had a 27-match winning streak in dual meets over five years.  He also served as Widener’s Director of Athletics from 1955-79, introduced the University’s Physical Education Program and brought women’s sports on campus in 1972.  The Hansell Awards, which honors the University’s Scholar-Athletes of the Year, were named in his honor in 1997.  The track at Leslie C. Quick Jr. Stadium was named in his honor in 1984.  Hansell also planned and oversaw construction of Widener’s Schwartz Center and was influential in encouraging the Philadelphia Eagles to use the university facilities for their summer camp in the 60s.  Hansell was a former member of the executive committee and former president of the Middle Atlantic Collegiate Track and Field Association.  He also served on the executive committee of the Middle Atlantic Collegiate Football Association.  After his retirement, Hansell continued to work part-time in the university’s Development Office in planning and fund-raising.  He worked there from his retirement as Director of Athletics in 1979 until his death in 1988.

First joining Widener’s Board of Trustees in 1961, Dixon served as Board Chairman for 24 years, a testament to his unwavering commitment to higher education and staunch support of Widener’s men and women.  Over the course of his tenure, he played an integral role in transforming a small military college into a four-campus, multi-disciplinary, metropolitan university.  Dixon’s extraordinary leadership and generosity of time and resources has allowed Widener and its predecessor institutions to flourish.  For his many contributions, the Widener University Board of Trustees bestowed upon him the title of Chairman Emeritus as well as two honorary degrees, the first in 1965 from Pennsylvania Military College and the second in 1973 from Widener College.  Dixon was president of the board of the Widener Memorial School for Handicapped Children.  He also served as chairman of the board at Abington Memorial Hospital and Maine Coast Memorial Hospital, vice chairman of the Delaware Valley Hospital Council, and board member at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children and the Hospital Association of Pennsylvania.

Bender, McGowan, Fleck, Leayman and Reinecker comprise arguably the greatest women’s quintet in Widener Athletics history.  Making up the women’s freestyle relay squad that raced four at a time and featured one alternate, they competed at the AIAW National Championships in 1977 and were crowned All-Americas.  This was the highlight of a campaign in which they did not lose a race all season prior to the national championships.  The 400-yard freestyle relay team closed in 11th place and the 200-yard freestyle relay squad finished 12th in the country.  Bender for her career won five Middle Atlantic Conference titles, graduated with no fewer than eight school records that all lasted no fewer than 20 years, lost just once over 48 races in her first two years and helped Widener to a 20-0 record over her first two campaigns.  Bender, McGowan, Fleck and Leayman all were named to the MAC All-Century Team in 2013.

It was one of the signature nights for what is a proud department, which began competing in athletics in 1866.  The University has won the two aforementioned team NCAA national championships, 11 individual national titles by six different student-athletes, 115 Middle Atlantic/Commonwealth Conference championships and seen a league-best 51 student-athletes named Capital One CoSIDA Academic All-Americas.  The University also won national championships in polo in 1928 and 1943 that were not sanctioned by the NCAA.