Alice Putnam Willetts, considered to be one of the pioneers of women's lacrosse, passed away on Saturday, June 6 in Swarthmore, Pa. She was 94 years old.

An outstanding player and coach, Willetts was inducted into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 1998.

As a talented all-around athlete, she began playing lacrosse under the direction of Hall of Fame coach Virginia Allen at Swarthmore (Pa.) High School in 1940 and was the captain of the 1943 team. Upon graduation from high school, she played lacrosse for the Philadelphia Lacrosse Association while attending Temple University and playing on the Owls’ field hockey, basketball, and tennis teams.

“Putty” earned a spot on the U.S. women’s lacrosse team during her first year with Philadelphia and remained active on both the U.S. lacrosse and field hockey teams for 12 years. She served as captain of both U.S. teams in 1955.

Willetts spoke about her love of lacrosse and competition in this 2019 video interview with US Lacrosse.

 

Willetts started coaching in 1947 as an assistant to Allen at Swarthmore High School and started the lacrosse program at Haverford High that same year. During that time, she also started and coached the Temple University team from 1950-52 and coached the all-Philadelphia club team in 1955 and 1956. From 1957-62, she was the coach at Shipley School.

In 1962, following Allen’s retirement, Willetts returned as a teacher and head coach at Swarthmore High School, and for the next 21 years, she would lead the hockey team to a 155-20 record, with five undefeated seasons and three league titles. She retired from coaching in 1983, having also registered three undefeated seasons in basketball and one in lacrosse. In forty years of coaching, she never experienced a losing season. She was elected an Outstanding Educator of America in 1974.

“Putty was an incredibly strong women with great integrity,” said Hall of Famer Josie Harper, who coached and taught alongside Willetts at Swarthmore High School in the 1960s. “She was a very intelligent woman who was loved and cherished by all her students. The kids just knew that she cared about them.”

Willetts was committed to having girls participate in sports and athletics, and never cut players who wished to join a team. She emphasized sportsmanship, teamwork, and respect for others.

Hall of Fame official Kim Basner started her lifelong association with lacrosse as one of Willetts’ students at Swarthmore High School.

“Putty wanted us all to play and made sure we all understood the history of lacrosse,” Basner said. “She also encouraged us to continue playing beyond high school, and to find ways to give back to the game after we stopped playing. Once I began officiating, I always wanted to do my best in her games.”

As a proud Swarthmorean, Willetts was extremely civic-minded, always seeking ways to improve the quality of life for local residents. She became even more active in her community after retiring from teaching and coaching, especially as an advocate for senior citizens.

“She always stressed to us that we had to be well-rounded people,” Basner said.

Willetts was inducted into seven halls of fame in her lifetime. In addition to the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame, some of the others included the National Field Hockey Hall of Fame, the US Lacrosse Philadelphia Chapter Hall of Fame, and the Temple University Athletics Hall of Fame.