Sherman column: St. Pierre was a true pioneer
Last fall Toni St. Pierre was thinking how nice it would be to run the Boston Marathon at the age of 58.
As it turned out, the Hopkins Eisenhower High graduate never got the chance.
One day she noticed a pain in her leg. It didn’t go away, so she had it checked out, and the doctor found a malignant tumor.
St. Pierre died Feb. 2 of this year, just four days before she was to receive a Minnesota Women in Sports Day “Pioneer Award” in ceremonies at the state capitol in St. Paul.
Ever since I met Toni in the fall of 1972, I felt like we were connected. That was my first year as a sportswriter with Sun Newspapers, and Title IX was the hot topic of the day.
My first year on the job, I covered football, boys cross country and boys soccer in the fall. And I had the distinction of covering the first girls swimming meet in Minnesota high school history as Hopkins Lindbergh defeated Golden Valley. Sid Hartman of the Minneapolis Star Tribune was also contacted, but declined the invitation, I was told.
Anyway, getting back to Toni St. Pierre. She wanted to run cross country that fall, but there was no girls team at Hopkins Eisenhower, or anyplace else for that matter.
With a little help from the court system, St. Pierre was placed in the Eisenhower boys team, which was a state title contender at the time. She wasn’t the fastest, but she wasn’t the slowest, either, and I was impressed by the fact she was out there competing. A St. Louis Park student, Debbie Feierer, joined her school’s cross country team that same year.
Title IX progress was not as rapid as St. Pierre hoped it would be. As a student at the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, she wanted to continue running, but her only option was to join the men’s team at nearby St. John’s University.
I thought about Toni a few times after that, wondering what had happened to her. She would have been an ideal subject for a “Where are they now?” feature in light of the way girls cross country and track have grown in recent years. I tried to find her but couldn’t.
This January, I was pleased to learn about her Pioneer Award. I couldn’t think of anyone more deserving. She not only came in on the ground floor, but built the ground floor for so many others who have followed in her footsteps.