Pitt Athletics Hall of Fame Inductee Talks Swimming, Pitt-Penn State Rivalry

Archival photo of swimmer Kathy Stetler in poolBefore competing in the 50-yard butterfly, an event that would make her the University of Pittsburgh’s first female national champion in any sport, Kathy Stetler (A&S ’79, DEN ’83G) was focused — perhaps surprisingly — on something else: the relay after that event.

“My thoughts prior to the 50-yard butterfly race were actually more to do the best I could and just get through it,” said Stetler. “It was the end of an exhausting three-day meet. But when it was over, everyone was jumping up and down and going crazy. It was truly a surreal moment.”

Athletics Hall of Fame Roster

  • Henry Clifford “Doc” Carlson, basketball, baseball, football, 1914-17; basketball coach, 1922-53
  • Mike Ditka, football, 1958-60
  • Tony Dorsett, football, 1973-76
  • Herb Douglas, track and field, 1945-48
  • Bill Fralic, football, 1981-84
  • Marshall Goldberg, football, 1936-38
  • Hugh Green, football, 1977-80
  • Trecia-Kaye Smith, track and field, 1995-99
  • Roger Kingdom, track and field, 1981-84
  • Billy Knight, basketball, 1971-74
  • Dan Marino, football, 1979-82
  • Lisa Shirk, gymnastics, 1980-84
  • Charles Smith, basketball, 1984-88
  • Kathy Stetler, swimming, 1976-79
  • John Bain “Jock” Sutherland, football, 1914-17; football coach, 1924-38
  • John Woodruff, track and field, 1936-39

Because of this win at the 1978 national championship for the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women — along with her status as Pitt’s first female four-year All-American — Stetler was chosen as one of 16 former coaches and student-athletes for induction into the new Pitt Athletics Hall of Fame this weekend in conjunction with the Pitt-Penn State football game.

“Kathy was dominant from day one, holding her own amid a thriving sports scene in Pittsburgh: When she swam for Pitt, the Steelers won two of their six Super Bowls, and Pitt’s football team won its ninth national championship,” said Donna Sanft, a former longtime Pitt athletics administrator and member of the Hall of Fame’s selection committee. “In those early years after Title IX was passed, she served as a torchbearer for not only her sport but also all female athletes at Pitt, showing them the sky was the limit for their success.”

An Oakmont, Pennsylvania, native, Stetler dove into her sport at a young age, swimming at Oakmont Country Club when she was 8 and 9 years old. Finding early success, she continued to swim, competing at venues such as what is now called McCoy Natatorium on Pennsylvania State University’s campus, where she would later compete as a collegiate swimmer.

“I know Penn State is Pitt’s legendary rival, and don’t get me wrong, when we swam against them, we were out to win, but Penn State is great, too,” she said. “Their team and coaching staff were always so welcoming and supportive of us. I remember our relationship being one of mutual respect and I loved going to their facility. At larger regional meets, we would actually cheer for each other.”

Stetler entertained ideas of attending a college or university in a warmer climate, but her participation in one Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) program and interactions with a particular collegiate coach would lead her to stay close to home.

Before her senior year at Riverview High School, Stetler became a member of the Pitt Aquatic Club, which practiced at the same facility as Pitt’s swimming and diving teams. The AAU program was coached by Dick Bradshaw, who was then the head coach of Pitt men’s swimming and diving team.

Citing its athletic and academic merits, Stetler chose to enroll at the University, where she would be guided to 18 All-America citations by coaches Kate Mathison, Carol Sprague and Bradshaw. After receiving her bachelor’s and doctoral degrees from Pitt, Stetler completed a periodontal residency at Case Western Reserve University.

“I am beyond honored to be an inaugural inductee in the Pitt Athletics Hall of Fame,” said Stetler, who eventually made her way to a warmer climate in Melbourne, Florida, where she leads a private dental practice. “I feel blessed to have been given the opportunity to attend such a great university. To be placed among its legends is truly humbling, and I am eternally grateful.”

Celebrating the inaugural class

All living inductees in the first class of the Pitt Athletics Hall of Fame are expected to be on hand for recognition during Pitt’s nationally televised football game against Penn State on Sept. 8 at Heinz Field. 

“In looking at our many deserving candidates, it is obvious that this 2018 group will be the first of many legendary Hall of Fame classes at Pitt. We’re thrilled to celebrate their achievements with a fitting showcase," said Heather Lyke, director of athletics. The class members represent more than 100 years of athletic achievements at Pitt.

Though the football game is sold out, an induction celebration will be held on Sept. 7, and there are still tickets available to join in the festivities.

To learn more about the array of athletic achievements represented in the inaugural class, read the honorees’ bios or visit Pitt's Facebook gallery featuring the inaugural inductees