SPONSORED BY: SportsGrub
By BOB YORK
Martin Souders never met his great great niece Marjorie Plants but if he had, you can bet he would have introduced himself with a hug and a high five to let her know how proud he was of her.
Plants is a three-sport athlete – soccer, skiing and tennis – at Miss Porter’s School in Farmington, Conn., and she’s a pretty good one, too. This fall, the talented junior helped lead her mates to the No. 1 seed in the New England Prep School Athletic Council Class A Girls Soccer Tournament, where they fell to Buckingham, Brown & Nichols in the championship game by a 1-0 count.
Last winter, meanwhile, Plants highlighted her sophomore year by finishing second in the Giant Slalom and fifth in the Slalom to lift Miss Porter’s to a sixth-place finish in the NEPSAC Class B Alpine Skiing Championships.
Such showings would undoubtedly have rated a thumbs-up from any great great uncle but for Souders, who was a three-sport athlete in his own right in high school and college, just the idea of Plants simply competing would have been more than enough to bring a smile to this man’s face. That’s because Souders has become the icon for the cause and stature of physical education and athletics in New England’s prep schools.
Souders began his quest of melding brawn with brain a century ago when he was named director of physical education at Milton Academy in 1919 and spent 10 years there before moving on to Phillips Exeter Academy from 1930 to 1962. There he was named head of physical education as well as director of athletics and coached the Big Red varsity football team from 1930 to 1938.
As director of athletics at Exeter, Souders concentrated on the development of the school’s intramural program. He established a system that featured competition between clubs rather than classes and increased the number of games with other schools. He also initiated the requirement that all students participate in four periods of athletes a week and added cross-country and fencing to the school’s athletic program.
His affirmative approach on athletics also got him elected as NEPSAC’s first president (1942-1944) and following his death in 1964, the council honored him in 1967 by creating its most prestigious accolade: the Martin William Souders Memorial Award
As inscribed, “This award is in recognition of the leadership, vision, dedication and the constant and valuable contributions which he made to Physical Education and Athletics among New England Independent Schools.” Furthermore, it is presented annually to a graduate of a New England Independent School “who has made a distinguished record in sports and who has since made a distinguished record in life through his/her ideals, leadership and accomplishments."
“I really enjoy competing at the prep school level throughout New England and I’d love to be able to thank him for what he helped create here,” said Plants of her great great uncle, who grew up in Auburn, Neb., where he played football, basketball and baseball at Auburn High School. “No matter the sport you play at a New England prep school, you can always be certain that you’re playing at a high level. This organization (NEPSAC) has helped prepare thousands of athletes for successful collegiate careers throughout the years and to think someone in my family helped make this all a reality is really pretty awesome.”
Souders went on to attend Kansas State College, where he also played football, basketball and baseball prior to graduating in 1914 with a Bachelor of Science degree. He then moved east to Massachusetts, where he earned a Bachelor of Physical Education degree from Springfield College in 1916 and while doing so, proved yet again to be a man for all seasons by competing in football, basketball and baseball. In fact, during his collegiate career, Souders may have become fodder for trivia buffs when he was elected captain of basketball teams at both Kansas State and Springfield.
In 1930, Souders received his Masters Degree in Physical Education and Physiology from the University of Southern California, but even that didn’t seem to quench his knowledge for athletics. Thus, he began making it a habit of spending his summers attending coaching schools at Stanford, Colgate, Northeastern and Lafayette to study the finer points of that profession.
In 1916, Souders, who married Edna Ross and together had a son and a daughter, landed his first job when he was named director of physical education of the Milton, Mass. Public School System. He then took over the same position at Milton Academy in 1919.
“Martin was my great uncle but unfortunately, I never got to know him well … I was just nine years old when he died,” said David Plants, Marjorie’s father. “I can remember him coming down from Exeter to visit us in Connecticut a few times and he’d always bounce me up and down on his knee. My mother, Marjorie, was Martin’s niece, and she just adored him.
“He was one of five boys in his family … I always referred to it as ‘The Brotherhood,’“ quipped Plants, “so, when it came to sports, I figure that’s where he got his competitive nature from. I can imagine that growing up with four brothers can cause the competitive tendencies to begin at a very early age.”
Athletics proved to be only a part of Souders’ life, however, as he soon became a pillar of the Exeter community. In addition to being the school’s athletic director, head of its physical education department and head football coach, he still found plenty of roles to fill away from campus. Among those was his church, the Exeter Congregational Church, where he served as a Deacon. He was also a trustee of the Exeter Hospital and president of the hospital corporation, trustee of the Eventide Home, chairman of the Exeter Red Cross Blood Bank, chairman of the board of the Emerson School and a member of the Exeter Historical Society.
It was while wearing his athletic director’s hat, however, that Souders may have achieved his most endearing act at Exeter when he opened the school’s pool three mornings a week to Navy and Marine personnel at the nearby Portsmouth Naval Hospital who had been wounded fighting in World Was II. The swimming sessions, which allowed these wounded warriors therapeutic exercise, was supervised by the hospital’s medical department. He also set aside some time on Saturday mornings so that the children of officers at the Naval Hospital could use the pool as well.
“Martin was a good guy,” said Plants, “and I think the reason for that is because he indeed possessed the qualities of leadership, vision and dedication … those very same qualities that are inscribed on his NEPSAC award … the same qualities the council looks for in its award winners.”
When it comes to the Souders’ family tree, it would appear as though the Plants occupy one of its sturdier branches. David, as well as his two older siblings – Ken and Muffy – all proved to be chips off the old block. All three attended NEPSAC schools and all three competed in athletics. Ken attended Avon Old Farms School (1961) where he played soccer. Muffy, meanwhile, went to Greenwich Academy (1970) and competed in field hockey and lacrosse. David attended Berwick Academy (1973) and earned All-Fairfield County laurels there for his achievements on the soccer field.
Now it’s Marjorie Plants turn to place an exclamation point on her family’s athletic exploits – and she’s doing just that.
With the exception of that 1-0 loss to BB&N in the title tilt, one couldn’t have asked for a better season than Miss Porter’s put together this fall and at 5-3 and 105 pounds, the girl they call “Mojo” stood tall right in the middle of the fray.
“We positioned her as a midfielder,” said coach Avi Dubnov of Plants, who was one of three players on his squad to earn all-star laurels after leading it to a 17-1-2 showing, with that lone setback coming in the tourney finals. “That’s because she’s very aggressive and by having her play a midfield position, we could use that aggressiveness both offensively and defensively.
“In my opinion, the key to Majorie’s success is a combination of hard work … particularly on her own, and her perseverance … she just never stops trying to improve, ” added Dubnov. “They’re tremendous traits to have in life and she’s made the most of them in the athletic arena as well as in the classroom.”
In addition to earning the top seed in the New England Class A soccer tourney, Miss Porter’s also breezed to the Founders League title. Putting a rather surreal quality to its trek to the medals podium, however, was the fact that this showing came just one year after Miss Porter’s (18-1-1) had earned the top seed in the tourney’s Class B competition.
“Marjorie’s always working to make herself better, whether it’s on the soccer field, on the side of a mountain, on a tennis court or in a classroom … her priority is to always improve,” said a proud pop of his daughter, who is on the school’s high honor roll as well as a resident adviser to some 30 freshmen. “We’ve always considered Marjorie to be a natural athlete but through her hard work and determination, she’s made herself an outstanding athlete as well.”
Last winter, meanwhile, Plants again showed why she’s called “Mojo,” as the diminutive dynamo outraced all but one skier to the finish line in the Class B Giant Slalom, earning a time of 89.48 over two runs and missing out on a gold medal finish by a mere 2.21 seconds. In the slalom, meanwhile, her two runs were clocked in 70.75, which proved good enough for fifth place, just 4.9 seconds off the winning pace.
“It’s really remarkable when a sophomore finishes inside the Top 10 in both the Giant Slalom and the Slalom races at the New England Championships,” said Rich Lucas, the Miss Porter’s ski coach. “Marjorie just defies the odds, though. And so, we’re hoping for more great things from her this season as well.“
While Plants isn’t leaving herself much wiggle room for improvement, she still sees some areas to grow when she takes to the field for her senior year of soccer.
“We’re losing a number of seniors from that team,” explained Plants, “so I think I’ll need to step up and try to be more of a presence … try to be more of a scorer … try to be more of a leader.”
Martin Souders would be proud.
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