The website of Dorothy Jane Mills

The website of Dorothy Jane Mills

Blog: July 14, 2013

A few years ago a film director named Max Tash decided to prepare a film called "Girls of Summer" about a group of baseball players named the WBL Sparks. "WBL" stands for "Women's Baseball League." The girl players are, at most, 12 years old. Each year a team of girls 12 years old and under is selected by the director of the League, Justine Siegal, to play in the American Youth Baseball Hall of Fame Invitational Tournament, which takes part at Cooperstown Dreamspark in Cooperstown, New York.

Because theirs is a "picked team" of girl players chosen from teams of girls who play in the USA and Canada, the Sparks come to Cooperstown without having had a chance to play together as a team. They are chosen for this temporary team not only because of baseball-playing ability but because of their strong love for baseball and deep desire to play the game.

A picked girls' team called the Sparks has for ten years been selected to play in this annual Youth Tournament. Max Tash filmed the experience of the 2012 team and added brief interviews with Justine, her coaches, some fans, a couple of umpires, and a few parents who traveled to Cooperstown with the girls. In addition, with his footage of the game and the interviews, Tash interspersed some still photos featuring the history of excellent female players of the past like the Bloomer Girls teams, individuals like Jackie Mitchell, along with umpires like Pam Postema, and owners like Helene Britton. It's an informative mixture.

The Sparks make an appealing bunch. They're not the best female ball players you ever saw, and their coaches admit they lack polish, but they're genuinely game, they hit the ball hard, run with determination, and make every effort to make that difficult catch or to tag that base. The smallest girl even shows us that she knows how to bunt!

But the Sparks are at a great disadvantage. The 103 other teams in the tournament are made up of boys, all of whom have been playing with each other for at least a year and are real teammates. They are known as "elite teams." The Sparks have just met each other and don't know how the others on their team will react to any particular game situation. The result is that in the first part of the tournament the Sparks do poorly against their opponents. Their coaches even feel it necessary to hold practice sessions so the girls can brush up on the basics. It is not until the last part of the tournament that the Sparks actually win a game against a boys' team. They celebrate!

The adults in the film react in various ways to the events of this tournament. One Sparks assistant coach complains the parents of these girls don't expect them to play well simply because they are girls – and that's why they don't. A male coach of another team is quoted as he snaps pictures of the girls because "My wife isn't going to believe this without pictures!" A parent reveals the boys on her daughter's local team refused to accept her until they discovered what a good player she was. Justine, the league founder, reveals the criticism she herself had to endure for playing baseball on boys' teams. When pressed, some Sparks players admit reluctantly they had been subjected to hearing unpleasant remarks from the stands. So what happened to girls a hundred years ago is still happening.

Some boys didn't know what to make of it all; they had never seen a girls' team before. The most surprising incident of all was the moment when some individual boys asked girls to autograph a baseball for them!
The Youth Tournament could be renamed "Boys' Tournament With A Few Girls." Girls' teams are much less likely to get a chance to compete because they don't get the backing a boys' team gets. A big organization like that of Justine Siegal's, now called "Baseball For All," is the only kind that can develop teams good enough to win games at the Youth Tournament.

Little League, which now condescends to admit girls (because legally it has to do so) is never going to develop girls' teams because the parents of boys who are the coach's neighbors won't put up with it. Girls competing with their boys? Never. Fathers and mothers of local boys are pals with the coach. And the coach would never make any decision irritating the boys' parents, who feel they must protect their boys' delicate sensitivities, which might be hurt if they were beaten by a team that includes girls or a team completely made up of girls. The result is no Little League girls' teams and few Little League teams with a girl player. Thus do parents create macho sons. And daughters who believe they can't play baseball as well as boys.
 
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