Elfrida "Mrs. B" Berzins
Mrs. B is one of the best known figures in the history of women’s athletics at Western. She coached successful teams in track and field, archery, basketball and volleyball, the last of which she led to eleven consecutive intercollegiate championships. Mrs. B helped to set the stage for the future of women’s athletics at Western.
Coach Elfrida Carlsone Kukainis Berzins – or Mrs. B, as she was later affectionately known – was born in Riga, Latvia in 1904. She spent ten years studying classical ballet before switching her attention to sports. It was lucky for Western that she did!
Between 1922 and 1931, Mrs. B became a Latvian national champion in sports including basketball, volleyball and cross-country skiing. She also held national records for a number of track and field events such as discus, high jump, sprints, shot put and javelin. She represented Latvia in the 1926 Women’s Olympics in Sweden, placing within the top six competitors in each of the events of discus, shot put and javelin. In 1928, she won third place in discus at the Amsterdam Olympics and won fourth place in discus at the Women’s Olympics in Czechoslovakia.
Between 1928 and 1944, Mrs. B taught physical education and became the head of the women’s physical and general education program for the Institute of Physical Education in Riga. In addition, Mrs. B held a Masters degree from the Latvian Conservatory of Music and had studied in cities such as Berlin and Milan.
She came to Canada in 1948 to take a position at the St. John, New Brunswick, YWCA. Mrs. B became an instructor at Western in 1952, and soon took over the coaching of the women’s volleyball team. In the course of her first season as volleyball coach at Western, Mrs. B was able to bring the Western women’s team from last place to second place. The volleyball team that had never placed higher than sixth place would win go on to win eleven consecutive Women’s Intercollegiate Athletic Union (WIAU) championships with Mrs. B as their coach.
In 1956, Mrs. B became Western’s director of Women’s Athletics. She continued to coach volleyball, as well as women’s track and field, archery, and basketball. Mrs. B also taught in Western’s physical education department, instructing classes in archery, kinesiology, modern dance, gymnastics, volleyball and track and field.
Elfrida Berzins was a well-loved coach. After she left her position as volleyball coach in 1965, a WIAU volleyball trophy was named after her. In 1970, she retired from her position as director of Women’s Athletics. In the nineteen years that she had been at Western, Mrs. B never missed one day of work.
Mrs. B had a significant impact on women’s sport at Western. Not only did she coach several teams to new heights during her time at Western, but she changed the very face of the women’s sports program, giving it a strong foundation that has allowed it to carry on with continued success. Women’s athletics at Western owe a great deal to Coach Elfrida Berzins.
Click here to see a video from the Western Mustangs about Elfrida Berzins.