Girls softball in Dot: Revival a success

Girls in Dorchester have been playing softball for generations, but participation in the sport had waned until a committed group of community members and elected officials pulled together in recent years to support the softball program of the All Dorchester Sports League (ADSL). Three current players – Sofie Borges, age 11, Clare Ablett, age 10, and Aurora Pemper age 10 – asked the Reporter to tell the story of this “League of Their Own.”

Girls’ softball in Dorchester is nothing new. In fact, Mary (Francis) Walsh started playing softball in the “bowl” in Dorchester Park as a kid in the 1940s. Later, she and her sister Rita played CYO softball for St. Brendan’s and then for St. Gregory’s, a team that won the New England Championships in 1955. Now she watches her granddaughters, Maddy and Clare Ablett, who played for the ADSL Orioles this year in the Campbell division (ages 10–12). Says Mary: “The rules haven’t changed” and she likes to see “everybody playing,” but there were some lean years when finding a softball game in Dot wasn’t so easy.

As the CYO program became smaller and then finally disbanded a few years ago, ADSL picked up softball and its program became the only one specifically for girls in Dorchester. Candice Gartley, the executive director for ADSL, reported that a record 183 girls registered for softball this year (a 300 percent increase over last year). The financial sponsorship by state Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry and City Councillors Annissa Essaibi-George, Andrea Campbell, and Ayanna Pressley provided much-needed equipment, uniforms, and umpires for the growing league.

Mrs. Gartley has a personal interest in supporting girls’ sports because, unlike Mrs. Walsh, she didn’t have the chance to play on a girls’ team. She started playing tennis at the age of 7, but when she got to high school there wasn’t a girls’ team and she wasn’t allowed to be on the boys’ team, even though she practiced with them and could beat most of them. “I was only allowed to be the team secretary,” she says. “That has bothered me my whole life and it has given me inspiration to make sure that girls are valued as much as boys in the athletic arena. I’m going to make sure we keep getting the word out to our community about Dorchester girls and what a great softball program we have because of them.” She wants to see leagues for older girls and to have more opportunities for girls to practice. She is even working on getting a van or two so the players can travel to games.

Today’s players had a great time learning about the game this season. A lot of them said that the softball league was fun and exciting, and that they would definitely want to play again. Meredith Bultmeyer, age 12, said that it was really fun “because nobody cared if we won or lost, but we all had fun anyway.” Her teammate, Ava Sullivan-Thomas, age 12, said, “I felt welcome and I felt that I was part of a team.” She also said she would “definitely” play again, because “I feel happy when I play and I like all the cheering and support.” Claire Dujardin, age 9, said that softball was fun and exciting and she was happy doing it. Her twin sister Ailish said she would play again because she liked playing. The Dujardins played in the Essaibi-George Division for girls ages 8-9. Ayanna Pressley sponsored the oldest age division for girls 13-16, an age when many girls start to leave sports programs. The councillor came to a game during the playoffs to encourage the athletes to “throw like a girl” and stay active and healthy throughout their adolescence.

The league relied on committed volunteers to make practices and games happen. Although many of the coaches were parents, some people just wanted to coach, like Stacey Monahan, who coached the Colts and often combined practices with the Cubs (coached by Sheila McCarthy) in the Dorcena Forry Division for girls ages 5-7. Stacey said that at the beginning all the girls ran to get the ball or made sand castles in the infield, but by the end they had a better understanding of positions and rules. She said that the girls made a lot of progress over the season and the fact that they got medals was really awesome.

Stacey had never coached softball, but had played as a kid and enjoyed it and wanted to give back to girls in the community. She had high praise for volunteer Kevin Monahan (no relation), saying, “He was amazing as the league coordinator.” Volunteers like Stacey and Kevin, along with the sponsors, parents, and players, made the league a huge success. It was a true team effort!

Baseball, softball:
You can play both

The differences between baseball and softball are pretty big and it can be hard to play both, but I do it!  The major differences are the ball size and the pitching method. Baseball is typically aimed at boys and softball at girls. I play both, but some girls just want to play softball. The number of girls playing any type of ball is small, maybe because of people’s negative comments that boys are better at sports than girls.

The ADSL is a great opportunity to get girls playing ball. I feel that within the next year or two there will be a lot more girls playing ball because of programs like the All Dorchester Sports League.