Women's Basketball Team Celebrates 100th Anniversary of Hoops on the Hill

This story was published in the Spring/Summer 2023 issue of Forward Magazine.

The women who played on Seton Hillʼs first varsity team in 1923 would have been in awe if they were present in the Katherine Mabis McKenna Recreation Center Feb. 1, and they certainly would have enjoyed the celebration.

Decades of female student-athletes came together to celebrate the milestone and be recognized at halftime when the Griffins took on Indiana University of Pennsylvania, a match-up that first took place 100 years ago. An exciting 65-50 win capped off the celebration, with a pre-game reception and a post-game celebration with Seton Hill womenʼs head basketball coach Mark Katarski and the members of the 2022-23 womenʼs basketball team.

In the early 1920s, Seton Hill was experiencing a period of very rapid growth. The College was established in 1918, Lowe Hall was under construction by 1922, and Canevin and St. Joseph Halls were built in 1923. Though academics for younger students had existed on the Hill for years, a culture of student life and activities was developing on campus in response to demand by the college-age students. 

As society was beginning to embrace the importance of physical activity, sports were gaining a lot of popularity. Students of St. Josephʼs Academy, a high school for young women, enjoyed playing basketball on their outside court in a field of grass and dirt near the current location of the McKenna Center, which served dual duty as a tennis court even before the College was founded. Many of the young women who came to Seton Hill as college students had the opportunity to play basketball at their high schools and wanted to continue to pursue athletics.

The Seton Hill Athletics Association was formed on campus in 1923 and drove the future of athletics, including the need for an Activities Building that would become Sullivan Hall. In the meantime, the outdoor court on campus was used and the Armory was rented in downtown Greensburg for practice and inter-class games.

The first varsity womenʼs team grew from these inter-class games. Katherine “Kit” Roehn, a student and member of the basketball team at the University of Pittsburgh, took the train into Greensburg and served as a coach for several years. The 12 women selected as charter players competed in bloomers, wool stockings, silk blouses and high-top basketball shoes. 

The growth of womenʼs athletics in the last 100 years has had stops and starts, yet athletics has remained a staple at Seton Hill. The first womenʼs basketball team co-existed with other athletic activities such as golf, swimming, equestrian and ice skating. Basketball stayed on as an intramural club after the varsity team was disbanded in 1926, a similar issue at many other schools with collegiate womenʼs sports as changes in leadership, interest levels, and challenges in scheduling, transportation and distance – and the existence of other womenʼs colleges and their athletic programs.

Nearly 50 years after the varsity team disbanded, Coach John Fogle brought varsity athletics back to the Hill where it has remained and grown since. Today nearly one-third of the student body at Seton Hill are involved in Griffin athletics. 

As President Mary Finger said in her remarks at the centennial celebration, “100 years later, athletics programs at Seton Hill – including the womenʼs basketball team – are competing at a national level both athletically and academically.”

Mark Katarski has been at the helm for the last decade of womenʼs basketball on the Hill and felt strongly about creating a celebration around this 100th anniversary season.

"The Centennial celebration has been a transformational process for all involved. It underscores the forward thinking history of our University, especially amongst women, and shows the long-term way that athletics has been part of the fabric of Seton Hill," Katarski said.

Suitcase Discovery Sparks Centennial Celebration

When Marybeth Miller found photos and a varsity letter from her grandmother Florence Wilson Scott, Class of 1926, under a bed in a suitcase, she reached out to the University to share what she had found. This discovery revealed that her grandmother was one of the members of Seton Hillʼs first varsity basketball team and began a conversation about the approaching 100-year anniversary of womenʼs basketball at Seton Hill. Since bringing the photos to light, Marybeth has been an integral part of the planning of the centennial celebrations, serving as centennial committee chair and researching the history of the program along with Seton Hill archivist Casey Bowser. Her connection to Seton Hill has grown over this time, with the team recognizing her at the centennial game with a basketball signed by all the players. Her closeness and dedication also led to her making a gift to Seton Hill in honor of her grandmother. A lunch and learn with Marybeth in March capped off a year of celebrations for the womenʼs basketball centennial. Alumni and friends also gathered in October for a homecoming tailgate and alumni game and celebrated Seton Hillʼs Day of Giving in November by establishing a Centennial Scholarship.