The Mind of Anne

Posts Tagged ‘women’

December 31st, 2013 Thanks to Pepper Davis

Apollos Softball - Me (back row, 4th from right)

Apollos All-Star Softball – Me (back row, 4th from right)

In one of those articles about people who died in 2013, I came across Pepper Davis, the inspiration for Geena Davis’ role in the movie, “A League of Their Own.” In reading the article
NPR: League Of Their Own’ Inspiration Didn’t Mind A Dirty Skirt, I experienced all those warm feelings of being a female athlete, combined with the bitterness of unkind things people said or did. Note my experiences were in the 1960s and early 1970s. Whereas Pepper’s experiences were in the 1940s.

To set things straight:

  • Although it would have been easier and more advantageous to be a boy, I didn’t actually want to be one. I just liked playing sports and evidently had some skill at it. I felt very left out and perplexed when all the boys I had been playing baseball with for years went off to Little League. There was an assumption that with the uniform came inherent skill. Boys I could outhit or outfield one day suddenly acted like they were better than me because they were on real teams and I was not, all the while ignoring the fact that I wasn’t allowed to join those teams.
  • The fact that a girl is strong and able doesn’t make her a lesbian. She could be a lesbian but athleticism has nothing to do with it.
  • Just because a girl is good at sports, she isn’t necessarily a dumb jock, insensitive or singly focused on athletics. That goes for male athletes too. It is very hurtful to have your opinions discounted by schoolteachers who have made those assumptions.
  • The boy’s teams at my high school suited up in the finest uniforms, warm-up suits, etc. while barely winning a game all season. In comparison, the girl’s teams won the conference championship and went to the quarter finals of the State Championship in gym suits (dresses with bloomers) with felt numbers pinned to our backs. This was just poor form. It hurt our feelings but made it easier to rally for proper uniforms for the next season.
  • There wasn’t a college scholarship to be found for any of the girls. It wasn’t fair but perhaps without the pressure to score those scholarships, we had more fun.

In spite of all that and much more, I wouldn’t trade my athleticism for anything. As an adult, I am strong and able. I have a can-do attitude. I am tenacious. I know the value of fair play and I am inspired by teamwork. A lot of this was honed during my days playing team sports.

Attitudes have definitely changed. The pursuit of athletic excellence is open to both boys and girls. Not so much as professionals but it’s getting there. The concept of the student athlete and the recognition that there may be some intelligence behind a person who can handle themselves in sports was very welcome. I have to hand it to men as well. Although there are still dinosaurs, I’ve observed many more men interested in women who do well in sports.

For me, I took my opportunity while coaching my daughter’s softball team. One of the other coaches was particularly picky about the rules to the point of making what should’ve been a fun game into a painful ordeal for the coaches, the umpires and more importantly, the girls. I took her aside and tried to explain that these girls were going to grow up and talk about these times as fun and inspirational or maybe as unpleasant and a poor example of adult behavior. To put it bluntly, I was not going to have a bunch of girls thinking I was a total bitch and I didn’t think she wanted that either. She ignored my advice and that prophecy has come true for her.

I’d like to think the women I coached as girls learned a few things. I wanted them to learn the fundamentals of the game, teamwork and fair play. And we even won a few games, quite a few games. But they also saw that a woman can hit a ball over the fence, field a steaming grounder and still have a husband, a job and be a mommy, among other things. There were many teaching moments and we became a team.

During my coaching years, the movie “A League of Their Own” was released. The girls took it on as their own. They quoted lines. They were proud to be part of something. They loved the camaraderie. Their team attitude extended off the field and girls who had been teased in school were now defended by their teammates. And they became comfortable with their very able bodies.

So to Lavonne “Pepper” Paire Davis and all the women like her who led the way, I thank you.