• Hoboken Legend Maria Pepe: One of The First Girls to Play Little League Baseball

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    Hoboken holds its own in musical history — you know, with one of the most famous crooners of all-time, Frank Sinatra himself, hailing from the Mile Square City. But what you may not know is that thanks to Maria Pepe, Hoboken is also integral to the history of baseball — specifically, Little League Baseball.

    In 1972, Hobokenite Maria Pepe became one of the first girls to play Little League, which was previously a boys-only sport, solidifying Hoboken in baseball history. After 12-year-old Pepe received the go-ahead to try about and then subsequently made the team, she became a trailblazer for girls everywhere, pitching three Little League games wearing a Young Democrats Jersey in the New Jersey city she called home.

    “When I was a young girl and people would say, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ I used to answer, ‘I want to be a Yankee,'” Maria told Makers: Women Who Make America.

    READ: The Kick A$$ Hoboken Girl Martha Bayard Stevens

    In the 70s, Pepe joined the Young Democrats team of Hoboken and played in three games before being kicked off for being a girl. Little League’s charter was at stake and Pepe recalls, “I had to give my uniform back.”

    “[Coach] Jimmy [Farina] wanted me to stay on and keep score,” she continued. “I did that one for one game but I couldn’t keep doing it. It wasn’t enough for me.”

    With the National Organization for Women championing and supporting her cause, Pepe took her case before the New Jersey Superior Court. Judge Sylvia Pressler ruled in favor of Pepe in 1973.

    I want to encourage all the young girls today to believe in themselves and their athletic abilities, I think kids get a better sense of how to work and play together. Sometimes a girl can learn something from a boy and vice versa.

    maria pepe

    When Pepe originally joined the team in 1972, she says most people just assumed like the rest of her teammates, she was a boy.

    “I was starting pitcher. Not everyone realized that I was a girl,” Pepe recalled. “My hair was short so you just saw a couple of small curls hanging out of my baseball cap. It took a little while into that first game before some of the other coaches were saying, ‘Hey, wait a minute. Jimmy’s got a girl on the team. The rule book says that girls aren’t allowed to play.'”

    “My coach Jimmy Farina tried to argue with the coaches and say, ‘Look, Maria’s just as good as the boys.'”

    After reading about the local story in the newspaper, the National Organization for Women teamed up with the New Jersey Division of Civil Rights and filed a suit, claiming Little League was discriminating against Pepe for being a girl. Judge Pressler ruled in favor of Pepe, though Little League filed an appeal. Ultimately, the decision was upheld, appeal denied, and by 1974, girls were welcome additions to Little League teams across the nation.

    See More: A Hoboken Legend: Dorothea Lange {American Documentary Photographer}

    Pepe herself was too old to play Little League by the time the decision became final. Even so, she was the first girl to play Little League in 1972 when she pitched those three games in Hoboken. Those three games and the subsequent fight for civil rights afterward made Pepe into a local hero.

    Years later in 2004, the former President of Little League Dr. Creighton Hale, one of Title IX‘s most staunch and vocal opponents, asked to meet with Pepe at the Little League World Series game {Pepe was there to throw the first pitch}. Hale told her his granddaughter played Little League.

    Today, more than 300,000 girls participate in Little League.

    Who is your favorite local Hoboken legend? Tell us in the comments below!

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    Steph Osmanski is a freelance writer who specializes in sustainability and health and wellness content. She is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at Stony Brook Southampton.


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