“They think I throw soft, but then they see my fast ball, and they get kind of scared.”
Mo’Ne Davis, the pitcher for Philadelphia’s Taney Dragons couldn’t be more right: after helping her Little League team secure an 8-0 shutout victory, along with a spot in the Little League Baseball World Series, there’s good reason for batters to fear the 13-year-old girl with a 70-mile-per-hour fastball.
Watching highlights from her most recent performance, it’s easy to see the frustration on her competitors’ faces as Davis dominates batter after batter from the mound. The Dragons’ latest victory saw her strike out six challengers. In a previous game, she struck out 10. Davis will be one of two girls, including South Vancouver’s Emma March, competing in the 2014 Little League Baseball World Series, which opens August 14th in Williamsport, Penn. How fitting that this year marks the 4oth anniversary of the decision to allow girls to participate in Little League.
The fight to let girls step up to the plate was not an easy one. Among dozens of discrimination lawsuits, the first successful legal challenge to Little League’s exclusionary gender policy came with 11-year old Maria Pepe, who started as pitcher in three 1972 Little League games before opposing teams insisted she be removed. Threatened with the loss of her Hoboken, N.J., team’s charter, her supportive coach had no choice but to put Pepe on scorekeeping duties.
In the end, the National Organization for Women went to bat for Pepe, and in 1973 Judge Sylvia Pressler ruled that:
The institution of Little League is as American as the hot dog and apple pie. There is no reason why that part of Americana should be withheld from girls.
After a failed appeal, Little League changed its rules to allow girls in baseball while also creating a girls softball league. Unfortunately for Pepe, the final decision came after she had turned 14, meaning her Little League career had started and ended with just those three games.
Pepe’s refusal to back down, however, is a testament to her bravery. Pepe endured outright harassment to open doors for fellow girls who just wanted to play—girls like Bunny Taylor who, in the same year that Little League opened its doors to girls, pitched her first no-hitter. These talented girls proved that talent is talent, independent of gender. Every season, nearly 50,000 girls honor this proud legacy by earning their positions on Little League rosters.
We can’t wait to see what Mo’Ne has in store for the World Series.
James Hildebrand is a senior at Amherst College and editor-in-chief of the independent student blog AC Voice. He is interning this summer at Ms. magazine.