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Athletic History

The history of athletics at The Ethel Walker School

The history of athletics at The Ethel Walker School begins with the school’s establishment, in 1911, in Lakewood, New Jersey.

Outdoor recreation is mentioned in the earliest recollections of the School and also in early newspaper advertisements for admissions, as is riding, which has been a strong part of the program from the outset.

The Sun Club and the Dial Club were established during the School’s first year, and these spirit clubs performed against each other in gymkhanas, as well as at other athletics and recreational events.  The students kept track of which team had earned the most awards and “wins,” and that team’s flag flew from the flagpole — a tradition that is maintained to this day. When athletics co-curriculars became a formal part of the Walker’s experience, the Suns and Dials engaged in inter-school play, rarely competing with other schools, except at the end of various sport seasons. Today’s clubs compete against each other in a wide variety of activities, including on special days such as Dogswood Day. While the competitive spirit of the Suns and Dials has remained strong among both students and alumnae, the School’s athletics program has changed greatly since the School first opened in 1911. 

Canoeing at Lakewood, circa 1914
1917 Track Team

In 1921, the [field] hockey team and the track squad were introduced. Other early sports included basketball, riding and tennis. While the New England Preparatory School Athletic Council (NEPSAC) began in 1942, it wasn’t until the 1970’s that girls’ schools were granted membership and girls’ athletics became a regular part of the Council’s annual agendas. Title IX was signed into law in 1972, creating opportunities for girls to gain equal access to competitive sports.

Since joining NEPSAC in the 1970’s, Walker’s has captured the Championship title and Finalist titles in a variety of sports including field hockey, swimming, and skiing in various Classes. The Ethel Walker School Athletics Council, which was formed in the first decade of the school, (between 1911 and 1921) has had a variety of names including Athletic Association in the early 1980’s. and to this day is still responsible for generating enthusiasm around athletics. Walker’s athletes have received individual honors of the highest possible distinction within the interscholastic leagues and many graduates have achieved similar feats at the collegiate, professional and international competition levels.

Walker’s was part of the original Founders League membership in 1981, and the league officially began in 1984. Walker’s left the League for a time, along with some of our sister schools, to create more flexibility in opponents and contests across different programs. For example, Walker’s found much success in the Girls’ School League, with championships in field hockey, soccer, and lacrosse throughout the 1990’s. The early 2000’s showed a boom of new sports added to the athletic program. Squash and competitive swimming were two recent additions  as the popularity of these sports  rose  in New England. Walker’s returned to the Founders League in 2008, as the school’s teams became more competitive and more prominent within the interscholastic leagues. Walker’s also found much success as a member of the Connecticut Independent School Athletic Conference (CISAC) in a variety of sports, including multiple championships in field hockey, lacrosse, softball, and soccer, before the league downsized to cross country and swimming around 2015. As Walker’s achieved a higher competitive profile, turf fields were added and in a community-wide spirit of pride and purpose, the Centennial Center opened in 2016 to welcome another 100 years of Walker’s athletes.

Walker's Athletics Through the Years

1942 Dials
1914 May Day
Ethel Andrews Harlan
1917 Riding Henrietta Davis '18
1920 circus
EWAC 1921-1922
Nancy Van Voorhees
1930 Pepper Pot Arena
Mallory cup
1942 Uniforms
1958 skiing
1963 IFWFH
Walker's basketball 1970s
1981 Field Hockey
Lacrosse in the 1990s
Crew early 2000s
Riding Team 2002
Soccer 2008
Centennial Center
1912

The Sun Club and the Dial Club (pictured in 1942) were established at Walker's. These spirit clubs performed against each other in gymkhanas, as well as at other athletics and recreational events.

1914

Dancing was a formal part of a Walker's girl's education from the school's earliest days. At Lakewood, students were instructed by Misses Darling and Miner. Miss Darling trained the girls for special dances in connection with our May Day and dramatic performances.

1917

Alumna Ethel Andrews Harlan '15, who had some influence over school athletic uniforms, became the School's first athletic director in 1917. "The first thing on my agenda turned out to be hockey," she said.

1917

The riding program began to flourish when the School moved to its Simsbury location in 1917. Here, alumna and rider Henrietta Davis '18 poses with her horse in the picturesque woods that surround campus.

1920

In 1920, the Suns and Dials started a new tradition of competing circuses. Within the privacy of their own campus, the students performed acrobatics and simple stunts, much to the amusement of their peers and the members of faculty, staff, and administration.

1921-1922

In 1921, the field hockey team and the track squad were introduced. Other early sports included basketball (pictured), riding, and tennis.

1921-1922

The Ethel Walker School Athletic Council was formed in the first decade of the school (1911-1921) and has had a variety of names including the Athletic Association in the early 1980s. To this day EWAC is still responsible for generating enthusiasm around athletics.

1924

Nancy Van Voorhees ‘24 was a remarkable athlete who, at the age of 15 and while a student at Walker’s, was selected to participate on the first Women’s Olympic Track Team.

1929-1930

In late 1929, the school finished construction on the John Henderson Indoor Riding Ring. John Henderson was a long-time riding instructor at the school. The first indoor horse show (later called the Winter Horse Show) was held in February 1930.

1932

In 1932, the first athletics award, the Margaret Mallory Cup, was announced at that year's commencement exercises to Jean McClelland. The award was created to recognize "the new girl whose spirit in work, conduct, and athletics has been most distinguished."

1942

The Walker's varsity athletic teams received their first formal uniforms in 1942. In the same year, Walker's joined the newly formed New England Preparatory School Athletic Council (NEPSAC).

1958

Walker's first alumna faculty member, Mabel "Mabsie" Walker '30 helped to form a ski club in 1935. Today, Walker’s ski program competes in the Class “B” Western New England Prep School League (NEPSAC) as well as the Brigham Ski League (BSL).

1963

Word of Walker's quality athletic facilities and playing fields led the International Federation of Women’s Field Hockey to petition Walker’s for the use of its fields for the annual IFWFH tournament. As a result, the school gained notoriety for its own hockey program.

1970s

While the New England Preparatory School Athletic Council (NEPSAC) began in 1942, it wasn’t until the 1970s that girls’ schools were granted membership and girls’ athletics became a regular part of the Council’s annual agendas. Title IX was signed into law in 1972.

1980s

Walker’s was part of the original Founders League membership in 1981, and the league officially began in 1984. Walker’s left the League for a time, along with some of our sister schools, to create more flexibility in opponents and contests across different programs.

1990s

Walker’s found much success in the Girls’ School League, with championships in field hockey, soccer, and lacrosse throughout the 1990s.

Early 2000s

The early 2000s showed a boom of new sports added to the athletic program. Squash and competitive swimming were two recent additions as the popularity of these sports rose in New England.

Early 2000s

Since its inception, the riding program has continued to be a cornerstone of The Ethel Walker School.

2008

Walker’s returned to the Founders League in 2008, as the school’s teams became more competitive and more prominent within the interscholastic leagues. Walker’s also found much success as a member of the Connecticut Independent School Athletic Conference (CISAC).

2016

As Walker’s achieved a higher competitive profile, turf fields were added and in a community-wide spirit of pride and purpose, the Centennial Center opened in 2016 to welcome another 100 years of Walker’s athletes.

Sun and Dial Clubs

The Sun Club and the Dial Club were established during the School’s first year, and these spirit clubs performed against each other in gymkhanas, as well as at other athletics and recreational events. The students kept track of which team had earned the most awards and “wins,” and that team’s flag flew from the flagpole – a tradition that is maintained to this day. When athletics co-curriculars became a formal part of the Walker’s experience, the Suns and Dials engaged in inter-school play, rarely competing with other schools, except at the end of various sport seasons. Today’s clubs compete against each other in a wide variety of activities, including on special days such as Dogswood Day. While the competitive spirit of the Suns and Dials has remained strong among both students and alumnae, the School’s athletics program has changed greatly since the School first opened in 1911.

Dials Raise their Flag 1916

Riding at Walker's

Riding, under the direction of John Henderson, was the predominant physical activity at Walker’s since its first year, and it continues to be an intrinsic part of the school’s identity to this day. Ethel Walker Smith, who enjoyed riding with Henderson (pictured) and was an enthusiast of professional horse racing all her adult life, wrote, “Some of the girls were accustomed to riding, and those who were beginners soon profited by [Henderson’s] admirable teaching” (Smith, 6-7). Mr. Henderson stayed with the school for many, many years, and the indoor riding ring that was built on the current school grounds in 1930, was named for him.

Sports Offerings and Awards

While it is difficult to state when the various sports that have been played throughout the years at Walker’s were first offered – with the exception of riding and dancing in 1911, and basketball and track in 1917 – photographs as well as the paper programs for the annual Athletic Board Awards and Honor Cups events do exist. These paper programs, which were printed from 1940 until about 1968 for Commencement exercises, indicate when particular sports were formally recognized at Walker’s. Some sports, such as bowling, enjoyed short runs in Walker’s athletics program; while other sports, such as ice-skating, that were very popular at Walker’s for decades were never formally recognized.

Still other official Walker’s sports (including cross-country, squash, swimming, personal fitness, and downhill skiing) have arisen or been recognized as official Walker’s sports during recent years, but awards for those sports have been and continue to be given during private awards banquets, while general athletics awards are given during Commencement.

The following list shows the dates and names of Walker’s sports that have merited awards at the annual Commencement Exercises:

1940: Golf, Tennis, Posture, Overall Athleticism
1943: Riding, Basketball
1945: Hockey, Baseball
1950: Softball, Dancing
1952: Bowling
1953: Lacrosse
1965: Volleyball
1966: Badminton
1967: Ping-Pong
1968: Paddle Tennis

1958 Bowling

Archival golf photo