Honoring a PC Sports Legend
Debbie White played three sports at Central Bucks West, an experience that enhanced her natural athletic talents and imprinted a mental tenacity that has informed her adult life.
“We were very competitive and very good,” White said. “My senior year I was on three championship teams. So winning is something that I’ve always been lucky to be a part of. It’s been inside of me from high school.”
White brought her winning spirit to Penn Charter in 1988 when she became the school’s first girls athletics director. She had graduated from West Chester University by then, was playing lacrosse for the U.S. national team, and teaching and coaching at Baldwin School. Word got around that PC had a job opening: Penn Charter had gone coed in 1980 and was about to graduate an eighth grade class with girls into an Upper School with no girls athletics program. White seized the moment.
“To build a girls athletics program from the ground up, it was a phenomenal opportunity,” she recalled. “I can’t say I knew a lot about what I was doing at that point, except that I was competitive and wanted to build it.”
White — with the support of her husband John White and then Head of School Earl J. Ball and Director of Athletics Bill Gallagher — set about to create a girls program that had a “mindset of success that would mesh with the boys program, which was dominant.”
In the beginning, there were three core sports, field hockey, basketball and lacrosse. Basically, she coached everything and set about to create a culture and traditions. “We set individual goals and team goals. Sure, everybody wants to win the championship. But if you set goals and work toward them together you become part of something bigger than just win-loss. To me, that is everything. We built a program from that.”
Chelsea Erdmanis OPC ’02 played with White and said she instilled a drive for excellence, “but beyond teaching toughness, Debbie provided lessons in teamwork, unity and heart. Her lessons extended far beyond the playing field, as did her relationships.”
Erdmanis, a director of the Penn Charter Alumni Society, had the honor of announcing at OPC Weekend in May that the group has made a $100,000 gift to the new Graham Athletics & Wellness Center to name the Debbie White Upper School Girls Locker Room. The Alumni Society supports the school with gifts to the PC Annual Fund. The additional campaign gift contributes to the capital fundraising necessary to achieve the school’s vision for a campus transformation, and it assures that — along with the Blaine A. Steinberg OPC ’11 Center for Fitness and Performance — the new facility has a strong female presence. And, as Erdmanis pointed out, it honors a “Penn Charter sports legend.”
White said she was initially taken aback, “overwhelmed” by the locker room naming. “Then I started getting texts and emails from former players who hope their daughters might someday use the locker room … and I realized that they still believe in what we had.”
Her three sons are excited for her, too, because they were there from the beginning. On a spring-break lacrosse trip, Tyler, her firstborn, flew with the team — and turned four weeks old in Florida. The girls were phenomenal with him, White said, and from that point on her sons were basically part of her teams.
“I coached with kids strapped to my back, kids strapped to my front, kids nearby in a playpen. People think I was crazy. I think I was. But you just live in the moment. I wasn’t giving up lacrosse. I wasn’t giving up my job. I was going to do it all.”