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A SLICE OF HISTORY FOR BABE ZAHARIAS

Babe Zaharias was always gracious but that doesn't mean she didn't like to win.

"I never heard a mean word come out of her mouth. But was she competitive on the golf course? You bet," said Joan Morell, Zaharias' niece, who lives in Tampa.

"She used to say: 'The Babe is here, who's coming in second?'"

Today, the woman known as one of the country's greatest female athletes in golf, basketball and more, would have been 99 years old. The city is throwing a celebration at the Tampa golf course she once owned.

Born Mildred Ella Didrikson, Zaharias was an athlete from the start. She earned the nickname Babe after hitting numerous home runs during a game of baseball.

"She always knew she wanted to find a way to make a living in sports because as a little girl she could hit the ball farther and run faster then any boy in the neighborhood," her niece said.

Her accomplishments include two track and field gold medals at the 1932 Olympics, All-American status as a college basketball standout and a sensational golf career that led her to co-found the LPGA.

When her career began winding down, Zaharias and her husband, pro wrestler George Zaharias, bought the Forest Hills Golf and Country Club in 1949. The couple lived nearby until she died from cancer in 1956.

Her husband sold the club and it fell into disrepair. The city eventually purchased the property and in 1974, it was reopened with a new name: the Babe Zaharias Golf Course.

A golf tournament and celebration will be held today at the golf course at 11412 Forest Hills Drive. There will be music, contests and a collection of artifacts from the Zaharias museum on display. Golf course officials hope people from the Forest Hills neighborhood will come out to learn a little bit about some of the history in their own back yards.

"She would really be happy with what's going on today and what has happened to the course - lending her name to the community to get people to come out and learn to play golf," Morell said of her Aunt Babe.

"She loved being out on the golf course," she said.

And golf was just one of Zaharias' talents. She was an accomplished diver, bowler, basketball player, harmonica player and seamstress, Morell said.

"Her dexterity and hand-eye coordination were extraordinary."

Shelley Rossetter can be reached at (813) 226-3374 or srossetter@sptimes.com.

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