Play Fair

In the early 1970’s the women’s rights movement was recognized as the “second wave” of feminism. Every aspect of women’s lives, including work, family, and sexuality were included in this movement.  However, not everyone was on board with this equal rights for women’s evolution.

In fact, some of the fathers and coaches on our Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) boys 9-12 baseball league were bigots and totally intolerant to gender equality–contrary to the CYO’s mission to help young people find true happiness by coming to know Jesus Christ and his loving spirit.  Herein lies this storyline.  

I was the 26-year-old team mother, supporting my husband’s efforts as team coach.  We had two sons (not all that athletic) on the team and an infant in tow.  Basically, my role was to keep all the boys in line off the field, bake cookies, cupcakes, quarter oranges, and prepare drinks for their breaks between innings, and babysit our daughter. I also kept the score book for each game. And, win or lose, I helped pack all the kids and equipment into our station wagon to head to the local burger shop afterward for comradery.

On this particular game day, only mothers showed up to cheer on our boys team called “Geno’s Giants, (sponsored by the nearby hamburger chain). The opposing church  team “Ritchie’s Raiders,” came from about two miles just south of Mount Calvary. And, most of their team’s parents were men. 

Their coach’s demeanor preceded him on the field.  Ritchie’s coach was a stocky, burly-looking, bright red-haired man in his forties, who apparently would down a beer or two before heading out for the game.   

If there were ever any signs of a coach not being the best person to influence the boys this man had them all:  He placed winning above everything;  he singled out kids to criticize; played favorites, allowed his kids to bad-mouth each other and players on the opposing team; he manipulated his players’ and allowed them to be disrespectful to each other and to their parents; and he ignored safety and health issues.  Unfortunately, many of his parents followed his lead by placing their son’s gameplay above all others, making winning the only goal for their kids, and chastising and loudly voicing rude remarks for any player that didn’t meet their expectations, regardless of which team they played for.

Since our team had the home-team advantage, we were to provide the umpire for today’s game.  Since we had no assistant coach or men present Ritchie decided to pick one of their team’s fathers to umpire.

We are now about halfway through the game.  Ritchie has 14 runs to our zero.  It’s obvious to us that we were being outplayed, but also, that Ritchie’s umpire was making bad calls. It was at this point that I asked my husband to put me in as umpire!  Yes, me, the 125 pound, blonde female!  He looked at me as if I was crazy.  The other moms got behind my request. Time was called and after some awkward and unruly discussion, I assumed the position of umpire–probably a first ever.  Back then, there weren’t even female coaches and I don’t even recall a girls or mixed-gender team.

Within the first few throws from the pitcher, Ritchie’s team was up in arms and yelling “she doesn’t know what she’s doing.”  The coach barged onto the field and got up into my face and would not back off.  It was then that I expelled him from the game, and the game was called.

Their team still had the winning score of 14-0, but that wasn’t enough for this coach.  He called the CYO and the CYO office called our league’s manager, Mr. Frank Mammano.  Frank was definitely put in an awkward position.  He called my husband, Bob, and they rehashed the scenario from our side of things.  Bottom line, the game was made official, with Ritchie winning 14-0, and Ritchie was asked to find a new team coach.

My take on things–I stood up for women’s rights, (despite my personal discomfort and questionable safety), my husband supported me (despite his probable personal discomfort and fear for my safety), the team and our own boys experienced first-hand our support for fair competition, mutual respect, friendship, team spirit, and equality.

What’s interesting to me about this story is that I went outside my comfort zone (a first for me at the time) to stand up for what was right for others. If you asked other people to characterize me, most of them would say “she’s a demure young women,” meaning I was reserved, modest, and shy.

And, much to my surprise, this was just the first of several other times in my personal and work life where I had to reach deep within to find my power to stand up for myself or others, or be run over.

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