Sports

Marge Wessel, a champion for gender equality in South Florida sports, dies at 88

Retired teacher Marge Wessel, with former student James Cashion, pointed out other former students in a class photo when she hosted a reunion for her 1954 Benjamin Franklin Elementary School 6th grade graduating class, which gathered 56 years later in Miami Lakes in 2010.
Retired teacher Marge Wessel, with former student James Cashion, pointed out other former students in a class photo when she hosted a reunion for her 1954 Benjamin Franklin Elementary School 6th grade graduating class, which gathered 56 years later in Miami Lakes in 2010. Allison Diaz

Marge Wessel was a friend, participant, advocate and admirer of sports from the start.

As a kid, if there was a ball anywhere nearby, it was meant to be thrown or kicked.

Sports meant so much to Wessel, she spent the greater part of her life teaching values — more specifically, those values that sports teach kids. Wessel, a South Florida mainstay as a teacher/administrator in the Miami-Dade school system for 48 years, particularly stood up for young ladies and women to benefit from learning those values.

So, sports lost one of its biggest boosters, at age 88, when Wessel died May 23 from natural causes.

Her presence and voice might not be heard anymore, but her legacy remains.

Why do the number of male and female sports offered now rest at a similar number? Thank Marge Wessel.

Why do young girls and young women have a similar number of state championships as their male counterparts? Thank Marge Wessel.

Why do young female athletes, once banned to outdoor facilities, now share indoor use of the gym with their male counterparts? Thank Marge Wessel.

Why are female athletes getting substantial scholarships in South Florida? Thank Marge Wessel.

You can go on and on about this life well served.

Born in New York, Wessel moved to Miami when she was a fifth-grader and it was immediately evident that sports were destined to be a part of her future.

“She told us there were a lot of boys in the neighborhood,” recalled Wessel’s namesake daughter, Margie Wessel Scott. “She swam, but the boys were playing baseball, football, basketball. Pretty soon, she was playing all those sports with the neighborhood boys.”

Also, pretty soon, all the boys were picking her first to be on their team.

“She just loved sports,” daughter Margie said.

Wessel went off to college at Florida State University and expanded her sports repertoire: tennis, track and field, synchronized swimming and field hockey were among the sports she tried to master, and she usually did.

Name a sport — any sport — and Wessel wanted to give it a try.

When she returned to South Florida from FSU and started teaching, she witnessed some things she could not endure. She saw how girls and boys and men and women were treated unequally in sports.

“The discrepancies were blatant,” Margie Wessel said. “Boys were given uniforms, girls had to buy them. That made an impression on her. That made a cause for her.”

Nevertheless, as she fought hard to boost female sports, she had no resentment or malice toward male athletes.

Simply put, she thought sports were good for both genders.

Wessel was strident, but not in a bellicose sense. Instead of complaining, she worked at changing things — for everyone.

Perhaps Wessel’s signature accomplishment was starting The Sports Society in the ’70s, which stages an annual banquet, honoring South Florida female athletes and giving scholarships and monetary awards to top scholar-athletes. The program will go on without Wessel and be a fitting part of her legacy.

“She was a very, very giving person,” Margie Wessel said. “A very, very good person.”

Marge Wessel’s family will receive friends from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Sunday at St. Rose of Lima Church, Miami Shores. A funeral mass for Wessel will be held at noon Monday at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Miami. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the Marian Center, Miami.

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