(Posted August 20, 2001)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Celebrated in many sports, ignored by most product manufacturers, stereotyped as flaky or weird by a right-handed majority, left-handers can find recognition and financial assistance for their education at Juniata College, a small, liberal-arts college in Huntingdon.
Juniata's left-handed scholarship, worth $1,000 to $1,500 a year to studious southpaws, was established by the late Mary Francis Beckley, a former Juniata student, with a bequest of $24,000. More than 40 left-leaning Juniata students have taken advantage of the scholarship since its inception in 1979.

The scholarship is reserved for sophomores, juniors or seniors attending Juniata College. The stipend cannot be applied to other institutions. According to Randy Rennell, Juniata's director of student financial planning, lefties are identified by answering the final question on Juniata's individual data form. The scholarship recipients are chosen from left-handers that have top academic records. Rennell says the college does not ask the students to prove they are left-handed. "We don't even check closely when they are signing the forms," he says.

"It makes you feel good because you're getting a scholarship that helps pay for your education, and also gives you encouragement about being left-handed," says Holly Bonker, a Juniata senior from Bloomsburg, Pa. studying biological sciences. Bonker, a Juniata field hockey player who uses her left-hand in everything but cutting with scissors, believes being left-handed is an advantage. "In field hockey, the left hand guides the stick, so I think I have an advantage because my left hand is stronger. Still, I would like to see more left-handed desks at the college."

Bonker is one of five Juniata students to receive the scholarship for the 2000-2001 academic year.

The story behind Juniata's lefty scholarship is at its center a love story. In 1919, Mary Francis, a student taking a tennis class, was paired with Frederick Beckley, another students. The tennis coaches, apparently unable to envision a tennis future that would feature such lefty champions as Rod Laver, John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova, paired the two lefthanders. The Beckleys were married in 1924.

Roughly 10 percent of the United States population is left-handed, making the country's only left-handed scholarship quite competitive for Juniata students who are interested. The unique financial aid package has been touted in such media outlets as the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the "Today Show" on NBC-TV and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

"I didn't get the scholarship because I didn't know about it until my junior year," says David Lehman, assistant professor of geology at Juniata and a 1983 Juniata graduate. "I haven't found being left-handed to be a problem as a geologist, although I did have to buy my son a left-handed baseball glove through the Internet because they didn't have any locally."

The onus on left-handedness well predates Juniata's scholarship program. Lefty discrimination dates back to the origins of language. The Latin word for left, sinistra, also shares a common root with the English word sinister. The French word for left, gauche, also means awkward. Other left-phobic words or phrases -- such as "left-handed compliment" -- have been a part of the American vernacular for decades.

Left-handedness has long been prized in athletics. Lefty baseball players are particularly celebrated, including Babe Ruth, Sandy Koufax, Willie McCovey, Reggie Jackson, Randy Johnson and Barry Bonds. Other left-handed athletes include NBA star Bill Russell, golfer Phil Mickelson and recently retired NFL quarterback Steve Young.

Lefties in other fields of endeavor include "Muppets" creator Jim Henson, guitarist Jimi Hendrix, musician Sir Paul McCartney, entertainers Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno and Bruce Willis, scientist Albert Einstein, politicians Al Gore and Colin Powell, and Presidents George H. Bush, Bill Clinton and Gerald Ford.

Juniata also has more than one unique student opportunity. In 1957 the late Will Judy, publisher of Dog World magazine, asked that a room in Lesher Hall, one of Juniata's residence halls, be reserved for red-headed students, in honor of his "titian-tressed" wife. A plaque in the room commemorates the request, but current residents don't have to be redheads to live in the room.

The Beckley scholarship is open to any student who demonstrates financial need as well as academic success. The only stipulation for the scholarship is that the student is left-handed.

Contact: John Wall office: (814) 641-3132
e-mail: wallj@juniata.edu

Contact April Feagley at feaglea@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3131 for more information.