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Baseball invitational in Hoboken to honor Title IX with Maria Pepe, all girls’ teams - FlagSpin

Baseball invitational in Hoboken to honor Title IX with Maria Pepe, all girls’ teams

The year 1972 will forever be a meaningful one for Hoboken’s Maria Pepe.

It was then, 50 years ago, that she joined and was forced off a city Little League baseball team because of her gender and then took the national organization to court.

Of course, 1972 was also a landmark year for women and girls in sports thanks to an entirely separate decision, as Title IX was ratified, ushering in a new era of opportunity for girl athletes. But to Pepe and the organization Baseball for All, which creates spaces for girls to play baseball, the two events are closely tied.

It’s thanks to Pepe that girls can now play in the Little League. And it’s thanks to Title IX that girls and women are competing on school athletic teams at much higher rates and with better resources.

This Sunday, on the very field where Pepe played her only three Little League games, Baseball for All will host a Title IX invitational, celebrating 50 years of the legislation with girls who have grown up enjoying baseball thanks to Pepe.

Pepe can’t wait to watch the girls play the sport she loves in the city she still calls home.

“I feel blessed,” she said. “I feel like everybody’s in a different place (and) attitude today. It’s so welcoming. It’s comforting. I feel like I’ve gone full circle.”

Three 12-and-under girls’ baseball teams from the region will compete Sunday. But first, Pepe and women from the National Organization of Women who tried her case that forced the Little League to welcome girls will be honored at an opening ceremony.

“The trailblazing began here in Hoboken with Maria Pepe, so I think the game belongs here in Hoboken,” said Hoboken Health and Human Services Director Leo Pellegrini.

Baseball for All Founder Justine Siegal is intimately aware of how far girls’ baseball has come and how many more possibilities, and challenges, lie ahead.

Maria Pepe, 1972, Hoboken Young Dems

Maria Pepe is seen during her brief stint with the Hoboken Young Dems Little League baseball team in 1972. She was removed from the team after three games when the national Little League organization threatened to revoke the city’s Little League charter.Jersey Journal file photo

Coaches throughout Siegal’s youth baseball career told her girls should only play softball. Not only did she continue to play baseball, but she went on to become both the first woman to coach for a professional men’s baseball team and the first women to coach for a Major League Baseball organization (the Oakland Athletics in 2015).

Now, her time is devoted to her organization, which helps communities create girls-only baseball teams and hosts opportunities for them to compete. It is also helping colleges start club teams, and Siegal said signs of support for girls from Major League Baseball should help the sport reach a new level.

“I would say girls baseball is at a tipping point and that the shift is occurring for girls to be supported in baseball around the country,” Siegal said. “I think you’ll see more girls participating in Baseball for All, you’ll see more inclusiveness within local leagues, which is an ultimate goal, and less questioning of ‘do girls play baseball?’”

Since she and Pepe were introduced several years ago, they’ve become close, and Baseball for All hosts an annual tournament in Pepe’s name.

“Maria Pepe is the reason why girls are allowed to play baseball,” Siegal said. “She is the reason why I was allowed to play, so we are all so indebted to the sacrifice she had to make.”

That sacrifice is still emotional for Pepe, who works as Hoboken’s assistant comptroller. She was too old to play in the Little League by the time she won her court case in late 1973, and she hasn’t forgotten the taunts she faced for fighting for what she knew was right but that so much of society refused to accept.

“She grew up fast,” said Jimmy Farina, Pepe’s coach in the Little League and now a colleague in City Hall, where he is the clerk. “She went from 12 years old to an adult. We were on Good Morning America, we did some shows on CBS and NBC.”

Hoboken is continuing to push boundaries for girls in sports. It recently created a girls’ flag football league, and while some doubted whether enough girls would sign up, more than 100 participated, Pellegrini said.

Though her time in the spotlight has made Pepe reluctant to be a prominent public figure now, she has embraced the chance to speak to and encourage youth, whether it is on the sidelines of their baseball games or on Zoom meetings with school classes.

“Now, I just try to share the spotlight and say ‘OK, it’s not about only me, it’s about all these girls here today,’ ” Pepe said.

Maria Pepe

Maria Pepe by the Hoboken Little League Field batting cages named in her honor, Thursday, June 23, 2022. (Reena Rose Sibayan | The Jersey Journal)

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Travis Burnett

Travis Burnett

A pioneer in the flag football community, Travis helped co-found the Flag Football World Championship Tour, FlagSpin and USA Flag. Featuring 15+ years of content creation for the sport of flag football, creating and managing the largest flag football tournaments on the planet, coaching experience at the youth and adult level as well as an active player with National and World Championship level experience.

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