Have you seen the movie, A League of Their Own? Tom Hanks and Geena Davis starred, depicting the advent of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Recently, I met Carolann Adams Nelson, an actual participant in that historic league which paved the way for Title IX in the 1970’s, and the promotion of women’s sports today.
The one thing that Carolann Adams Nelson wants to make sure people know regarding the American Girls Professional Baseball League is that “we were good.”
Carolann explained to me that the league was formed in 1943 by Phillip Wrigley, the chewing-gum mogul who had inherited the Chicago Cubs’ Major League Baseball franchise from his father. He was searching for a possible solution to avoid the collapse of major league baseball parks across the country during World War II, not to mention a national morale booster that the country so desperately needed. The league originally consisted of four teams and began as a non-profit organization in the industrial hub of the Midwest. It eventually grew to 15 teams and was in effect until 1954. Now, that was news to me because the movie leads you to believe that once the war was over, and the country got back to normal, so was women’s baseball. Actually, Carolann related that it was the invention of television that killed the sport. In the mid-fifties, more and more homes were getting their own television sets and were able to watch the broadcast of men’s major league baseball. Since there was greater access to MLB, its’ popularity grew and interest in the woman’s league waned.
Carolann has always been passionate about sports. She was 14 years old at the time the league was up and running. In order to play on the professional teams, you had to be 18. So Carolann was drafted to play on the talent development team for the Fort Wayne Daisies. She played on the team for three years and said it was a great experience. The teams were heavily supervised. No swearing or drinking was allowed. The girls not only honed their baseball skills but also learned about leadership, sportsmanship, and how to be aggressive as well as competitive–skills not generally encouraged with young women of the day.
Carolann wholeheartedly believes that the success of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League paved the way for Title IX in 1972. That famous Education Act stated that: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” I was in junior high at the time and remember well when girls athletic teams started up and were encouraged. While I never played on a sports team, I had many friends who were thrilled at the opportunity to play. One of my daughters has benefited from this revolution, having had no problems being able to participate and excel in girl’s water polo in high school. Some of her teammates even went on to play for Division I college teams. There is no doubt that allowing women full participation in school athletics makes a difference in their future life skills. Not only does it promote positive self esteem but social, psychological, and motor skills as well. Carolann also related a recent statistic that says 80 % of today’s female managers of Fortune 500 companies have a sports background and attribute part of their success to what they learned as athletes.
The All American Girls Professional Baseball League is a great story. Unfortunately, it took 30 years for the league to be recognized at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. In an effort to create awareness of this historical movement, Carolann travels around her home state of Arizona speaking on her experiences and the great influence the league has had on individuals and the country. She is also writing a book that will share her experiences. What an honor it was for me to meet Carolann and learn the real story of talented women who gave America something to cheer about during a time of war and encouragement for women to participate in sports today.
Did you play sports in high school or college?