Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Marie Pepe-- Legendary Hoboken Little League Player Who Helped Change Sports in America

HOBOKEN — If you don't know Maria Pepe, you probably haven't had a girl in your life who wanted to play Little League. As a tween, Pepe tried out for — and made — a Hoboken Little League baseball team in the 1970s, before learning that it was against Little League rules for a girl to play, and Hoboken could lose its Little League charter. The adults initiated a legal battle on her behalf, and in 1974, when Pepe was too old to play Little League, girls were allowed to play on Little League teams.
Pepe was honored Saturday in Hoboken for being a trailblazer, and the Little League batting cages at 5th Street and Hudson Avenue were named in her honor.
There was a ceremony, in which Pepe, her former coach James Farina, the former president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), and Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer gave speeches. Then, a sign was unveiled with Pepe's likeness and the tagline "Trailblazer For Girls in Little League Baseball."
Already, Pepe's baseball cap is in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, officials said, and it was high time for a local commendation.
While Pepe, the city's assistant comptroller, became teary eyed considering the honor and the accomplishment, she insisted that she "just wanted to play" baseball.
"My parents taught me in life what matters is how you play the game, not how many homeruns you hit," she said in her speech, as she sniffled. "What you do is measured in how it impacts others."

Hoboken Honors Maria PepeHoboken unveiled a sign in Pepe's honor April 16, 2016. After the unveiling, Pepe and others reflected on the importance of what she did, opening the door for girls in Little League. (Laura Herzog / NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)
Today, several girls play on the Hoboken Little League teams. Millions have played Little League around the world since 1974, according to the Little League Organization.
Among Hoboken's former Little League players is Tori Bravo, a 14-year-old Hoboken student who now plays baseball.
"I wouldn't be playing baseball without (Pepe)... so I'm really grateful," Bravo said.
NOW's former president Judith Weis, who worked in the 1970s to get the Little League organization to change its rules, said experts were brought in during hearings to block the change. One of whom insisted that little girls' bones were "more likely to break," she said incredulously.
After having coached several Hoboken Little League female players, one of Hoboken's Little League coaches said that in his experience, the girls have been some of the best members of the team.
"Girls of that age take instruction better, and almost as importantly, they're quite a bit of a calming influence in the dugout," said coach Scott Jandora.
Laura Herzog may be reached at lherzog@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @LauraHerzogL. Find NJ.com on Facebook
Maria Pepe (born 1960) is best known for being one of the first girls to play Little League baseball. In 1972, at age 12, she pitched three Little League games for a Young Democrats team in Hoboken, New Jersey.
This was the same team which her friends from the neighborhood had joined, so she joined as well, after having been invited to play by Little League coach Jim Farina. Pepe was asked to leave the team after the Little League "threatened to revoke Hoboken's charter." The refusal to allow Pepe to play attracted the attention of the National Organization for Women (NOW). 
A court case began on Pepe's behalf, which was supported by NOW. Ultimately the New Jersey Superior Court decided that Little League must allow girls to try out. As a result, the Little League organization began a program specifically for girls starting in 1974.
Pepe became a minor celebrity and drew media attention to various women's causes at the time. The New York Yankees made her an honorary "Yankee for a day". 
In 2004 she lent her glove and hat to the Peter J. McGovern Little League Museum in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania.[3] On August 20, 2004 she was also honored by Little League Baseball by being asked to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the 2004 Little League World Series in South Williamsport. 
In 2005 she attended a ceremony for Little League perfect game pitcher Kathleen Brownell who was being honored at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York

NY Times (1976) permission needed 
NY Times (1974) permission needed "Girls applaud ruling"