“Now girls we must get this batting down pat. We hear these words from ‘Casey at the Bat.’ Sometimes she’s cross, most times she’s gay, But she’s always there to show us the way, To continue our studies or to improve our game. She’s loved by all, Miss Herron is her name.” — From a 1960 Phoenix College student publication
There is a picture of Laura E. Herron, which appears in many of the newspaper clippings from the 1960s. It shows her engaged in a lively conversation and making her point by raising a clenched fist. And if you read the stories, she is described by adjectives like “peppery” and “direct.” It is not hard to imagine her on an athletic field blowing a whistle, shouting words of advice, or cheering on a team and that is where you would have found her during much of her life. A physical education teacher and a leader in recreational activities, Miss Herron devoted her career to instilling good sportsmanship and a love of athletics in thousands of young people.
In 1933, Phoenix officials asked Laura Herron to help create a recreation program for the city. Over the next few decades, she worked to organize one of the largest women’s softball leagues in the nation. According to a newspaper account, in 1962 there were 120 women’s and girls’ teams in league play and 20 more in open competition in the city’s recreational program. In one month, they played 348 games.
Men and women combined, there were 15,000 participants in the city leagues, and on a rainy night as many as 200 games could be washed out. While the public insisted on calling Miss Herron “the mother of Phoenix’s recreation program,” she took a more modest credit, saying she was, at most, the midwife. In either case, she was the woman behind the outstanding program, which amazingly enough was operated by volunteer workers. There were only two paid workers in the Phoenix softball program, and there were no trophies, no medals, just a lot of enthusiastic players.
Miss Herron was born in Helena, Montana, on July 5, 1892. She graduated from Stanford University and from the University of California at Berkeley. She taught physical education and science for eight years at three California high schools before becoming head of the physical education department at San Jose Teachers College. After one year there, she moved to Humboldt State Teachers College in Arcata, California, where she was head of the physical education department for six years. While in California, she became a member of the Business and Professional Women’s Club and helped organize recreational centers for women in six cities in northern California. In 1928 she was a delegate to the International Athletic Federation. The same year, she served as the U.S. official in charge of the women’s track and field teams in the Olympics in Amsterdam.
Miss Herron came to Arizona in 1931 and became head of the physical education and health department at Arizona State Teachers College (now Arizona State University) in Tempe. In her two years there, she coached winning teams in women’s hockey and men’s tennis. In 1933 she became supervisor for the Phoenix recreation department, a post she held for three and one-half years. At the time of her appointment the city had only two public pools. During her years as supervisor she added to the number of pools and saw that playgrounds, tennis courts, and recreational buildings were built in the parks. All of the construction was done under government work relief programs, with Miss Herron spearheading the effort to raise bond money. “It was the Depression, you know,” she said later. “But in spite of that, almost $1 million in bonds was raised.”
She inaugurated programs in aquatics, camping and craft activities for children; she encouraged businesses to form teams and participate in the city leagues; she worked to establish a strong professional staff of recreation directors; and she instituted strict sanitary regulations at the pools and bath houses.
In 1937 she left that job to become Director of Physical Education for women at Phoenix Junior College (now Phoenix College). She held that position until her retirement in May 1963. In addition to her job, Miss Herron served on the Phoenix Parks Board and organized a basketball tournament for American Indian girls. In 1959 she coached and refereed the play of 10 Indian teams in the tournament. One year later, the tournament drew 16 entries, including teams from California and New Mexico.
Miss Herron also was active in many organizations. She was a charter member and first president of the local chapter of the American Federation of Teachers. From 1948 to 1950 she served as secretary of the Phoenix Urban League and president of the Women’s Guild. After her retirement, she continued to teach physical education at several parochial schools. In April 1966 Miss Herron received a trophy from the Phoenix District Tennis Association for her contributions to that sport.
A few months later, on July 25, 1966, Laura Herron died in St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix.