by S. Mata
There are a lot of Penny Banner stories around.
Quite a few of them revolve around just how tough of a wrestler she was. When she got pushed, she pushed back... HARD. Some opponents didn't like that, but they all respected her for it. Penny earned that respect.
She was tough outside of the ring, too. She had an independent streak in her that made her temperamentally incapable of kowtowing her career to anyone. In an era when promoters ruled by fiat, that's the sort of thing that could be the kiss of death for a wrestler... but not for Penny. There wasn't a booker in the United States or Canada who wasn't clamoring to add her to their cards, because they knew she was one of the best, and she would give them a match that would put paying customers in the seats and get them tuning in on their TV sets.
And when, in those segregated times, promoters told her that it "wasn't good business" for her to wrestle black opponents, Penny went ahead and did it anyway, because she knew it was the right thing to do... and because, as a truly competitive athlete, she wanted to test herself against the very best, regardless of their color.
But many other stories about her speak not of her toughness, but rather of her kindness. Penny had a lot of friends in the sport... not just because she was a former worker, but because she was, simply put, the kind of person people wanted to be a friend of. She genuinely cared about others. Words like "legendary", "inspirational" and "beloved" are often thrown about far too casually, but in Penny's case, they are perfectly apt.
Long after she rang the final bell on her storied career, she continued to challenge herself as an athlete. At a point in life where many of her contemporaries were whiling their days away in rocking chairs, Penny was winning medals year after year at the Senior Olympics.
Ironically, it was that magnificent body which would eventually betray her. For the last few years, Penny had been valiantly battling against cancer. She equated that fight with a wrestling match, and often had her opponent on the ropes. She was bound and determined that she would pin her foe... no, better yet, make it scream its submission... and raise her hand in victory once more. Those of us who knew Penny fully believed that if anyone could do it, it would be her.
Ultimately, however, some opponents just outlast you.
Through it all, however, Penny Banner kept her wits about her, and her sense of humor. On her worst days, she would still make the time to ask how someone is doing. She never stopped caring about others, even if they were only names she knew on the Internet.
And she didn't just walk away from wrestling for good. She honored the PGWA by graciously agreeing to serve as our first Commissioner. This wasn't simply an honorary title... she took great interest in the women who wrestled for the PGWA. And she always made herself available to anyone who wanted her advice.
Several years ago, we sought to honor Penny for her lifetime of accomplishments both in and for women's professional wrestling. Deciding to do so was the easy part... the more daunting challenge was coming up with a name for the award which would best encapsulate all that Penny was.
Actually, it wasn't that difficult at all, because when the words came to us, we instantly knew they said everything about her that mattered. A few simple words to chalk up a career, a life, a human being.
It served as a valedictory for her accomplishments then, let it serves as her epitaph now:
PENNY BANNER: THE SPIRIT OF EXCELLENCE
Such spirit doesn't die... a little bit remains with all of us who were touched by it. So yes, our dear friend, Mary Ann Kostecki Weaver, has passed on.
But our inspiration, Penny Banner, lives on....
Penny's obituary in the Charlotte Observer is HERE