How Maria Pepe made it possible for girls to play Little League
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."
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.
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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.