Wiltz Athletic Club
Under the headline “New Orleans’ Greatest All-Around Girl Athlete” Joe Abraham’s Times-Picayune story was effusive.
“This young lady,” wrote Abraham of Anna Koll in 1930, “is probably the greatest representative of the fair sex ever to be developed here in the field of athletics.”
Forget the gender qualifier, Koll may well have been the greatest all-around athlete to come out of the Crescent City. Period.
Having competed in the dark ages of the 1920s and ‘30s, long before the advent of near-universal cable television coverage, Koll had been nearly forgotten, and probably would have been but for a few newspaper clippings, medals and plaques held onto by her admiring nephew, Bill Koll.
Bill is the keeper of the Anna Koll flame, the one person who persisted in reminding the media that followed Abraham and those who saw her perform that this was someone whose feats are worth remembering.
Indeed. Anna Koll, at 5-6, 125-pounds, with wavy blonde hair and striking blue eyes, was a multi-sport, multi-state champion who collected gold medals like squirrels gather nuts.
Considered a Louisiana version of her friend and contemporary Babe Didrikson Zaharias, the do-it-all national female sports colossus of several sports and an Olympian, Koll was a more regionalized champion in large part, as explained by her nephew, because of a lack of sponsorship availability. “Everything she went to do, she had to pay for,” he said. “That got to be pretty hard on a school teacher and tennis coach.”
In her lifetime Koll won state titles in five different states – Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, and Massachusetts.
Competing in AAU sports with the Wiltz Girls Athletic Club, Koll competed in track & field, softball, basketball and tennis. She once held AAU records in the standing broad jump, high jump, running broad jump, 8-pound shot put, the 80-yard low hurdles, as well as championships in the 120-yard hurdles and the 50-yard dash.
She was part of the New Orleans team which won the Southern AAU championship four straight years (1926-29). Koll was part of the Wiltz team that won the AAU indoor softball title three straight years, leading the league in batting each season, and played on the Wiltz basketball team and made the All-Star team three straight years.
Impressed? So was Lawrence diBenedetto, secretary of the New Orleans AAU in 1927 when he wrote, “The New Orleans girls of the long skirt era, of novels and romance, may have been languid young ladies who walked no further than from the front steps of their homes to the carriage door. But the short-skirted, bobbed miss of the 20th Century exhibits vitality which would rival the athletic prowess of an Amazon.”
He was writing of Koll (pictured right is her great niece, Monique, accepting on her behalf from Sugar Bowl President Dennis Waldron) and her Wiltz teammates after they won the ‘27 Southern AAU championships. That day Koll won the both the long jump and high jump. She was also the reigning city tennis champion at the time.
A graduate of Tulane with a master’s degree from LSU, she also did post-graduate work at Harvard during the summers, winning a Massachusetts state tennis title in a tournament that included both men and women.
She died in 1998 at the age of 93.
Story submitted by Marty Mulé of the Greater New Orleans Sports Selection Committee.