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Nashville Scene Boys Vs. Girls

Gender-skewed softball team forfeits its way to the top

By Walter Jowers

AUGUST 28, 2000:  When I was in elementary school, we boys played football and baseball at recess. It was football from the start of school till the Christmas holidays, then baseball when we got back. One day in the fall, for no apparent reason, the girls decided they wanted to play football with us--tackle football, with no helmets and no pads. Our teacher, Mrs. Wise, told us we had to let 'em.

During the after-lunch recess, the boys and girls lined up to play. Among the girls was Marlene Warren, who was surely the most beautiful child and the smartest girl ever to set foot in Burnettown Elementary School. Every boy in the school had a crush on Marlene Warren. On the first play, somebody threw the ball to Marlene. She caught the ball cleanly and took off running. Cute and smart as she was, she wasn't very fast. We--and by "we," I mean the boys--gang-tackled her.

When we un-piled, Marlene didn't get up. She just lay there moaning, with her eyes swimming around in their sockets. One of the other girls ran to get the teachers. Normally, by the time the waddling old teachers could get to the football field, any injuries would have cleared up. But not this time. Marlene couldn't even sit up. The teachers picked Marlene up, put her in a little chair, and carried her to the school building. She didn't come back to class after recess. We didn't know where she was.

About halfway through health class, our principal, Mrs. Parker, walked into our classroom, shook her head, and half-whispered to Mrs. Wise, "Dead."

Sweet Baby Jesus, I thought. We have killed Marlene Warren!

Well, as it turned out, it was Nov. 22, 1963. Marlene was sore and groggy, but otherwise OK. President Kennedy was the one who was dead. I knew this was big and terrible news, but right then and right there, I was mostly glad to know I hadn't had a part in crushing the life out of Marlene Warren.

I hadn't thought much about this until last week, when a 55-percent boy team from Arizona won the Little League Softball World Series. They won mostly because of forfeits. Three all-girl teams refused to play the mostly boy squad, for fear of injury. The team from the Philippines, who had beat the Arizonans 3-2 in an earlier game, refused to play them again. So the Arizona team took home the big trophy.

I've got to tell you: I don't like it. Now, before anybody starts up with the gender-equity arguments, let me explain something: These weren't little boys and girls, roughly equal in size and strength. This was the senior division of Little League Softball. These kids were 16. If you could open up a boy's skull at age 16, you'd find his brain floating in 200-proof testosterone. It's no coincidence that we start inviting boys into the military at age 18. It's around that age that guys are about as strong, fast, and threatening as they're going to get.

The Arizona team has an explanation. They couldn't find enough boys to keep a baseball team together, so they put the boys on the softball team. They didn't break any Little League rules--on paper, there is gender equity in Little League. Back in the '70s, Little League lost a lawsuit and had to include girls in baseball; in the '90s, it lost another lawsuit and had to include boys in softball. Up until this year, though, nobody had loaded up a team with boys and gone for the big softball trophy.

Now, I can't blame a bunch of 16-year-old boys for taking the field against girls' teams, but I do wonder about these boys' daddies (one of whom, don't you know, was the manager of the Arizona team). I've coached girls' softball for six years now, and I don't know one manager, coach, or softball daddy who would put his nearly grown son on a softball team. I surely don't know anybody who would put five boys on a softball team and then go play the season against girls.

Believe me when I tell you, boys don't play ball like girls. Just about any boy will throw a ball at a baserunner's head, to make him slide early. Boys will slide into a base with their spikes aimed at the fielder's groin. Boys expect these things and defend against them. Girls, for the most part, will refuse to do anything that could hurt somebody. Even if boys and girls had exactly the same strength and skills, girls would still play a kinder, gentler game.

So, you ball daddies out in Arizona: Be ashamed of that trophy you stole from the girls. If you had a hair on your behind, you'd crate the trophy up and send it to those girls from the Philippines, who beat you 3-2. And you'd tell your sons to go play against other boys their own size and age.

But it's not going to be that way. "We've earned the championship," the Arizona manager said after the forfeit, "and we're gonna take it."

Well, bubba, if you're not ashamed, I'll go ahead and be ashamed for you.

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