More Than Carpooling And Laundry For This Mom: Lisa Shirk Joins Pitt Hall Of Fame
Lisa Shirk has raised three children with school responsibilities and extracurricular activities — including athletics — on their plates throughout the years. As a busy mom of active children, she knows a thing or two about all of the responsibilities of helping make things happen.
Ms Shirk is also a former standout gymnast who earned an NCAA championship while competing at the University of Pittsburgh nearly four decades ago and was a member of the US National team. Ms Shirk, who lives in Newtown with her family, was honored with Pitt’s first Hall of Fame induction ceremony, honoring 16 athletes — 12 of whom are still living and attended — from a variety of sports, including former National Football League stars.
The inductees were also recognized on the field at halftime of the Pitt-Penn State football game this fall, and when most of the former standout athletes waved to the fans, Ms Shirk decided to do some stunts, including cartwheels and flips to show her family and friends — along with the rest of the 68,400 fans at Heinz Field, as a matter of fact — that she still has some moves and the skill that took her so far in her sport.
“They got to see that I’m more than carpool mom, make dinner mom, and do laundry mom. To see me celebrated in a different light, in a different time, was really important for them,” said Ms Shirk, whose children, Nick Maragas (a former high school athlete), Kyle Shirk (a junior All State lacrosse player at Newtown High), and Kate Shirk, who attends Newtown Middle School, were present, along with her husband, Dan Evans.
Being recognized on such a big stage with so many people on hand was special for Ms Shirk, whose name is also on the university’s Walk of Fame.
Not only is gymnastics a sport that does not get the same attention as team sports, but back when Ms Shirk competed, things were much different. This was the first year women participated in NCAA championships, there were no teammates or family on hand, and she had to fight to have a second coach on the floor for the competition, held at the University of Utah. Ms Shirk recalls going to a pay phone outside of the gym where she had just won the NCAA title, and calling her family members to let them know about her success on the uneven bars; she recorded a score of 19.00.
“It really wasn’t celebrated until now. It was pretty amazing to be with the other athletes,” said Ms Shirk, mentioning the group that included NFL standouts Mike Ditka, Dan Marino, and Tony Dorsett, along with basketball player Charles Smith. “I also had the most fans that came to support me with ten from Connecticut, six from Ohio, and four from South Carolina. That’s what made that night so special, I was surrounded by family and friends,” she said. “It was one of the best weekends of my life. It was incredible.”
Ms Shirk, who went to high school in Danbury and competed in gymnastics clubs throughout the state, is in select Pitt company representing a university with a long, rich history. Originally known as Pittsburgh Academy (from 1787 to 1819), the school was named Western University of Pennsylvania from 1819 until 1908 before taking on its current name. Other inductees include Henry Clifford “Doc” Carlson, Herb Douglas, Bill Fralic, Marshall Goldberg, Hugh Green, Trecia-Kaye Smith, Roger Kingdom, Billy Knight, Kathy Stetler, John Bain “Jock” Sutherland, and John Woodruff.
The only female gymnast in University of Pittsburgh history to win an NCAA championship, Ms Shirk earned five All-America citations during her NCAA career, from 1980 to 1984. She was a three-time All-American in 1981 alone, finishing as the national runner-up in the all-around and floor exercise, while placing fourth on the uneven bars. On the strength of Ms Shirk’s outstanding performances, the Panthers finished 11th in the nation in 1981. Ms Shirk capped her collegiate career as a floor exercise All-American in 1984 with an eighth-place finish. In addition to her national acclaim, Ms Shirk was also a perennial All-East honoree.
In 1984, she earned her third All-America honor, placing eighth on the floor exercise. She received the Panther Award, an honor presented annually to the graduating senior athlete who has promoted Pitt athletics through their outstanding athletic achievement.
Ms Shirk was a member of the US National Team and was invited to the World University Games in Bucharest, Romania, but had to decline due to an injury. She was to go to Moscow for the Olympics in 1980, but the US boycotted.
Outside of gymnastics, Ms Shirk taught at Park Avenue school in Danbury. During time spent living in South Carolina, Ms Shirk gave up teaching, had her second and third children, and fostered 161 puppies and dogs with a rescue group.
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