Why Mo'ne Davis' Play Matters To Girls

August 18, 2014, 1:11 AM

— -- SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Penn. -- For Jaden Wray, the choice was not really a choice at all.

"I chose baseball because it looked funner," said the gap-toothed 8-year-old from Seneca, who came to the Little League Baseball World Series on Sunday night with her father for the same reason scores of other young girls were there.

"I watched Mo'ne twice," Danyse Washington, 8, said in reference, of course, to Mo'ne Davis, the star attraction of the Mid-Atlantic team from Philadelphia. "I wanted her to teach me baseball."

Davis' team pulled out a dramatic 7-6 bottom-of-the-sixth victory over Texas to advance to a Wednesday showdown with Nevada, with the winner to play for the U.S. championship. Davis had a hit -- which made her the sixth girl to get a hit in the LLWS -- an RBI and a walk.

It was good fun for the little girls who gathered on the sloping hills and in the grandstands and roamed the grounds of the Williamsport complex. Baseball or softball, the possibilities seemed as infinite as their dreams would allow.

But for the older girls watching the only American girl in this year's tournament, maturity gave way to a deeper appreciation for a 13-year-old not just treading in largely unchartered territory, but potentially treacherous ground as well.

"I like how she goes against what everyone says," Joclin Johnson, 13, of South Williamsport, said of Davis. "It's kind of daring. I think it would get really overwhelming."

"It's good to know they accept her; that's a big deal," Kimberly Foster, 16, of Montoursville, said of Davis' teammates. "Boys diss softball players just because they don't think we're as good. I think most girls would be afraid of playing baseball and not willing to take the chance."

Foster's sister Faith, 14, predicted other girls would "definitely be jealous [of a female baseball player]. And the boys wouldn't like it if the girl was as good as them."

For some, such as Faith Foster, softball wasn't a conscious choice. "I just kind of went that way," she said.

But for others, such as Heather Lorah, 15, who played Little League baseball until she was in seventh grade, watching Davis brought a mixture of admiration and regret.

"Yeah, absolutely," Lorah said with a shy grin. "I wanted to stick with baseball, but my parents weren't really sure I'd fit in with the boys."

"I would have liked to play baseball too," her friend Sara Silka, 15, said, "but I thought I'd fit in better with the girls."

Lorah switched to softball in high school, but the transition wasn't the smoothest either, she said.

"It was ok. Some girls were rude at first," she said. "And I still like baseball."

More than a thousand girls in the U.S. play high school baseball, according to Justine Siegal, the founder of Baseball For All, which "fosters, encourages and provides opportunities for girls to participate in baseball."

But Lorah's friend Elizabeth Andrewcavage, 14, a swimmer who plays wiffleball in her neighborhood and said she has always loved watching her brother play baseball, said the choice is an easy one for girls in her high school.

"The problem in our high school is they don't allow girls to play baseball," she said.

"I don't think that's right," Lorah said. "It's sexist."

Even for the younger girls, the choices might get more complicated as they get older. How long did Wray see herself staying in baseball?

"Until my dad says he wants me to play softball," she said, looking up hopefully to her father, James.

"If she wants to stay in baseball, it's OK with me," he said.

But one father of a middle school girl, who did not share his name, said girls can get hurt playing with boys.

"They don't have the same musculature of a guy if they have a collision," he said.

And for little Danyse Washington, even with a supportive and loving dad married to a woman he boasted was a five-time Pennsylvania high school state champion in track, her choice might not be quite as open as it seems either.

"I would rather she play softball because, as a dad, I don't want her to get hurt," he said.

Two seats down, Yolanda Washington differed and said if her daughter "had the skills," she would support her in baseball.

More importantly, she said, is the example Davis is setting for Danyse in the larger scheme.

"I'm excited that as an African-American girl, [my daughter] sees another African-American girl doing something so unique and positive," she said. "It's empowering for her. It doesn't have to be baseball."

Calling baseball "my first love," Angela Gardiner, who sat on a blanket on the hill overlooking right field with her pre-school daughters, said she grew up helping with her younger brother's baseball team. There was no way, she said, her daughters would be denied a chance to play the game, if that is what they want.

"If she wants to play football, I'm going to encourage her," Gardiner said of her 5-year-old. "There just shouldn't be gender boundaries."

Chrissi Kriner, of Williamsport, who was watching the game with her 11-year-old daughter, Juliana, strongly agreed and also applauded the message Davis is sending.

"At this age, girls can start falling behind, both athletically and academically, with boys leading the way," she said. "For this girl to play and excel is truly inspirational."

Said Juliana with a smile: "She really redefines 'She throws like a girl.' "

Jamie Girgenti, an 11-year-old gymnast and avid Phillies fan who drove from Medford, New Jersey, on Sunday morning with her uncle Bobby to see Davis play, simply likes what she sees.

"Her self-esteem must be very high to play with all boys," she observed. "She doesn't seem stuck up at all but just someone with great confidence. Mo'ne would be my role model if I was on a baseball team.

"She would be my role model even in general."