Traci Nally: Lessons learned from Little League

Traci Nally: Lessons learned from Little League

Little League made me a feminist.

I am from a family of five kids. I was the fourth in line with an older sister, two older brothers and one younger brother. Here are the years of our births: 1951 (Terri), 1951 (Tim), 1952 (Tom), 1954 (Traci) and 1958 (Tyler).

Play for us was largely whatever we could find to do outside, since my mother insisted that we go outside and leave her alone inside. It made us healthier kids and helped her maintain her sanity.

Being of similar age, the older four of us were two fairly equal ready-made teams. Our teams were divided this way: Terri the oldest with Tom the third in line, and Tim, the oldest boy, with me.

Our two teams would compete in baseball or softball, kickball, Annie-Annie-Over and any other team sport. But since we lived on a cul-de-sac where the concrete cuts in the pavement were natural baseball field lines and the front yards of the houses natural outfields, we played a lot of ball with each other as teams of two, and also on bigger teams with the seeming hundreds of baby-boom children who littered the neighborhood.

Being the youngest and a girl meant that I had to fight harder, get angrier and scratch and bite to win. I had to be able to take a punch and deliver a kick to survive.

But that was how we all played. Everyone was continually bruised and beaten. Lots of teasing, crying, hurt feelings, punches and fights. In other words, we were normal.

Our house was next to the ball field, then called 5 Acres. That is the place where eventually someone with the last name Hazel claimed as her namesake, i.e. Hazel Park. Never met or knew Miss Hazel, but she does have a park named after her, which many children who went to Columbia Grade School enjoyed while growing up.

The Little League diamond was there. All of my brothers played Little League. My father was an umpire for the league. My father had a deep sense of fairness. He would only call games in which my brothers were not participating or games where my brothers' teams were competing against each other. My dad's philosophy about umpiring was that it was more important to make a strong call and stick to it, even if it was wrong, than to be mealymouthed. If I was a parent, I might not have liked his philosophy, but as his daughter, I admired and understood it.

My brothers could all play Little League, but my sister and I could not. My sister and I played ball as well and as hard as my brothers, competing solidly with them on the unofficial ball field. My recollection is that Terri ran faster than anyone else, and that I was the best at catching fly balls. My brothers could hit harder and farther. But Terri and I held our own and made our share of winning plays.

I felt the Little League exclusion of me, because I was a girl, was a huge injustice. My mother agreed but could do nothing about it. In New Hampshire, where she grew up, she was a natural athlete and captain of her high school basketball team. Who would think that small town rural New Hampshire in the 1930s was on the cutting edge of women's athletics, when East Central Illinois in the 1960s was not?

I wanted to play more competitively, with a big team, in uniform, and proudly say that it was my dad who was a league umpire. But this was denied to me. It made me regretful of being a girl and envious of the advantages given to boys.

Did the discrimination keep me from a career in MLB? No, but it did keep many women my age from the opportunity of competing, winning and losing, practicing hard to be better, and teamwork. What it did give me, though, is an acute eye for discrimination against women and others treated as second-class citizens. For that, I say: Thank you Little League of the 1950s!

Traci Nally is an attorney and vice presdent of human resources at The News-Gazette.

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