A Pioneer For the Lady Rabbs
By Gordon Pynes
Returning to Atlanta in 1967 to begin the 9th grade she took to running the red clay roads of Cass County. Little did this young teenage girl in pigtails realize what a pioneer she would be for Girls Athletics in Atlanta, the state of Texas and the nation. Sherri Steward loved to run and now over 50 years later she still enjoys an early morning cup of coffee and a four-mile run from her home in Northlake, Texas.
Lady Rabbs track in 1968 was barely in existence. Coach David Murphy got things going with the talents of Sherri Steward. Distance running for high school girls in Texas involved nothing more than one lap around the track (440 yards then). At a meet on the track of Stephen F. Austin University Murphy persuaded the other coaches to allow for a girls 880 yard run. Sherri won it easily and from then on she would run races as far as the 26 mile marathon. While running for the Lady Rabbs she paired some workouts with classmate Martin Miller who was twice boys state mile champ. Miller gave Steward plenty of encouragement. As the new Atlanta High School opened in 1970 Sherri’s home was 4.2 miles from school. Many days come rain or shine she ran both to and from school. Her revered English teacher Ruth Trumble kept dry clothes for her at school.
During her high school career in Atlanta she was the District and Regional champ before placing second in the 1970 State meet then held in Abilene for girls. The UIL track records archives don’t begin listing Girls State results until 1972. There was little recognition or support for Girls sports at that time. Spotted in Abilene by the head of the Texas Track Club, Steward was invited to run with this team in the summer of 1970 as she completed her junior year. By running with the club and accepting a pair of shoes and warmup suit from the club she was declared ineligible to run for the Lady Rabbs early in her senior track season.
Moving on to college at North Texas University (NTSU) in the early 1970”s Sherri began to star for a track program that was almost nonexistent. Recall that Title IX was passed in June of 1972 to make Womens’ Athletics equal with Mens’. That was a slow process to endure but Sherri pressed on with virtually no financial support. The legendary Dr. Bert, coach at Texas Womans’ University took her under the wing of his track program. Her college performances in track and cross country and later with the Texas Track Club and Metro Striders Club in Dallas are very noteworthy.
Running for NTSU in what was the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW), a grouping of several major schools in Texas for state competition and then beyond at the National level, she excelled. During meets at the state level she won the 880, mile and two-mile events. Turning to Cross Country in the Fall she won the Southwest AAU races three years in a row and placed in the National meets.
During and following her college years Sherri ran for the Texas Track Club and then Metroplex Striders. In doing so she got her first plane ride and travel to compete in most of the big national meets. Competing several years in the Texas Relays, Sherri ran second twice and third once in the Invitational mile. Two of those races found her behind the winner, Francie Larrieu, who was a five-time USA Olympian. Competing at the Kansas Relays in the 800 meters she finished a second and third behind Olympic champion Madeline Manning. Her post collegiate career in the late 1970’s earned her qualification for six USA National championships and AAU nationals. In those, she placed in the top six over the mile, 1500 meters and two mile. At one time the Metroplex Striders two-mile relay team had the best time in the nation and Sherri was their anchor runner. Finishing a relay for the Striders, she anchored in a time of 2:03 for the two laps. That time would be very competitive today.
The little Lady Rabbs runner in pigtails continued distance running, and at age 40 won the Masters’ Division at the Cowtown Marathon in Fort Worth. There, of all the women competing, only two young Oregon women were ahead of her. For four years she applied her talent and knowledge of running to coach boys and girls track at Irving Nimitz high school.
One of Sherri’s highest honors came in 2002 when she was selected to carry the Olympic torch for the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games during a run through the streets of Arlington. This proud honor certainly rewarded her for outstanding athletic achievement.
Her love for running began as a child and has been a big part of her life. “It gave me self esteem” and certainly added to her drive as a professional educator. Last Fall I witnessed her being honored at a Rabbit football game as a Distinguished Atlanta Alumni by the local Education Foundation. At that time I had no idea of what she had achieved as an athlete. Sherri Steward’s professional accomplishments are worthy of a book, but this article concentrates on her recognition to be selected to the Atlanta Athletics Hall of Fame Class of 2022. Her induction unites her with fellow 1971 Rabbit graduates Ted Thompson and Martin Miller in the HOF. Sherri was a true pioneer in Womens’ track and blazed an award winning trail for the Lady Rabbs.