In Memoriam: Celebrating the legacy of Earle Zeigler

It is with great sadness, but with fond memories and great esteem for one of Western’s most prominent scholars and deans of the 1970s, that the passing of Earle Zeigler is noted.

Earle Zeigler died in his 100th year, passing away at 4 a.m. (PDT), Saturday, Sept. 29, in Richmond, B.C. He celebrated his 99th birthday this past August.


Born in Norwalk, Conn., in 1919, he took an undergraduate degree in German from Bates College in Maine, where he was a three sport athlete (football, wrestling and swimming). He went on to earn a PhD in Philosophy from Yale in 1948.

He is identified as one of the critically important pioneers in arguing the merits of studying the socio-cultural dimensions of sport and physical activity, arguments that helped greatly in the establishment of university academic curricula and organization of the first professional societies dedicated to sport history, sport sociology, sport philosophy, sport management, and the international/comparative study of sport and exercise.

His collective publications in this variety of sport discipline fields approaches the number 500, including 50 books and 430 scholarly journal articles. The number of graduate students he supervised and/or examined during his career at three universities (Michigan, Illinois and Western) exceeded 100. Many of those graduate students rose to become outstanding scholars and professional leaders, among them university deans and provosts, presidents of scholarly societies, noted experts and authors in the field(s).

A plethora of honours were bestowed on Earle Zeigler during his lifetime, including three honorary doctorates, among them one from Western (2006). He has been honoured as few have been in the history of kinesiology/physical education. The American Alliance of Health, Physical Education and Recreation named him Alliance Scholar of the Year in 1978, and two years later, bestowed its highest award on him – the Luther Halsey Gulick Medal.

Of the numerous societies and organizations he served over an active career spanning 70 years, none approaches the distinction of the American Academy of Kinesiology and Physical Education, which called him to its presidency in 1981.  Later, he was awarded the Academy’s highest accolade, the Clarke Heatherington Medal of Distinction.

His prominence is captured in several prestigious lectures named in his honor, among them the Earle F. Zeigler Honorary Address presented annually by Western’s International Centre for Olympic Studies.

Earle Zeigler first arrived at Western in 1949, at which time he taught courses in the newly developed physical education major. He assisted John Metras in coaching the football Mustangs, and, as well, coached both the varsity wrestling and swimming teams.


He left Western in 1955, appointed to the physical education faculty at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He spent the greater part of the 1960s as chairman of graduate studies in physical education at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. He returned to Western in 1971 as Dean-Elect of the newly formed Faculty of Physical Education. In this role, he presided over a reformation of intercollegiate athletics, physical recreation/intramurals, undergraduate and graduate studies.

In 1989 he retired to the sanctity of Richmond, B.C.

Earle Zeigler is survived by his devoted wife, Anne; his daughter, Barbara, a noted artist and recently retired professor in UBC’s Arts Faculty; and his musician grandson, Kenan. Sadly, he was predeceased by his first wife, Roberta (‘Bert’) and their son, Donald, a distinguished professor at the Pace School of Law in New York City.

Stories abound about Earle Zeigler during his Deanship here at Western. Well remembered were his historic battles with the university Provost on the concept of power in higher university administration – Zeigler, the staunch democrat and agent of his faculty, versus Grant Reuber, the conservative minister of central authority. Neither ever succumbed to the other.

Zeigler the athlete was a force to be reckoned with, even among those in his faculty member stable of superior and younger athletes, among them Frank Cosentino, Ron Watson, and Darwin Semotiuk. In every court game popular at the time (squash, handball, paddleball and table tennis), he could more than hold his own.

The list of outstanding global scholars Zeigler brought to Western to lecture and teach courses was legend – Hans Lenk from Germany, Harold Harris from Great Britain, Yuri Simri from Israel, Ion Ioannides from Greece, Haidaiko Abe from Japan, Louis Burgener from Switzerland, and on and on.

A memorable moment occurred in 1975 when the noted American exercise scientist T. K. Cureton from the University of Illinois was invited to Western. At the reception for him, Cureton suddenly challenged Zeigler to an impromptu one-arm push-up contest. Down on the floor they went, before all. Each did three reps, a tie.

Beyond the foregoing, as Earle Frederick Zeigler leaves us, his legacy is indelible to those who knew him personally – a fighter for human rights, including the rights of students; an indefatigable supporter of the scholarly advancement of his faculty colleagues; a dedicated zealot in pursuit of what is right as opposed to what is wrong in life; fair and just in meeting even the thorniest of issues; a revered champion of young emerging professionals in the field; a supreme mentor to hundreds of us who have followed his beacon.

Honour to his name.