Ruth Ann Burke
Class: 2022 | Category: Contributor | School: Peters Township
When Burke was a physical education teacher and coach at Peters Township in the 1960s, the WPIAL sanctioned only boys’ sports. However, her efforts to increase athletic opportunities for girls changed the future of the league in the years to follow. In the mid-1960s, Burke and friend Donna Shaver of Mt. Lebanon formed the Western Pennsylvania Girls Athletic League, a sister organization that sanctioned interscholastic sports for female athletes in Western Pennsylvania for the first time. The WPGAL offered track, tennis, and softball in its first spring season. The following school year, 51 teams signed up to play girls basketball, 26 for swimming, 22 for volleyball, and 10 for gymnastics. Burke was initially vice president with Shaver as president of the WPGAL, but Burke soon became the league’s top administrator and a leading force for change. Girls’ sports became an active part of the WPIAL in 1973, and Burke spent a decade on the WPIAL Board of Control. She also served as a district representative on PIAA steering committees. Burke taught at Peters Township for 28 years before her retirement in 1988. During her tenure, she coached golf, track, basketball, volleyball, and tennis at the school. The Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce recognized her in 1989 with its Women in Sports Lifetime Achievement Award. Burke graduated from the University of Pittsburgh and also studied at the University of Hawaii as part of a work-study program. She taught physical education in Riverside, Calif., for five years before returning to Pitt to earn a master’s degree. She later taught in the Bethel Park and Mt. Lebanon districts before accepting a job with Pitt teaching a variety of activity classes in the School of Education. In 1952, Burke traveled to Helsinki, Finland, with a New York University group to study the Olympic Games, furthering her appreciation of athletics. After five years teaching at Pitt, she accepted a position at Peters Township, where she worked to become the head of the high school’s health and physical education department.