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Thursday, June 29, 2017 at 10:15 am

Slaterettes Still In Their Own League

All Girls baseball outfit teaches skills, emphasizes “comaraderie”

Terry Nau
Pawtucket Times sports editor | Monday, May 21, 2001

PAWTUCKET -The Pawtucket Slaterettes Girls Baseball League has become an historic institution in its own right over the past 28 years, carving out a niche that rivals any other youth sports program in the state.

Let’s begin with the league’s web site, easily the best in the area, better even than the Rhode Island Interscholastic League’s own attempt at this venture. The Slaterettes’ web site features up-to-date statistics and standings for each of its divisions, listing the top 10 hitters along with leaders in categories such as doubles, triples, home runs, strike-outs, earned run average and runs batted in.

Forget the Interscholastic League. The . Slaterettes’ web site, which can be located through the keyword “www.slaterettes.com” appears to be modeled after Major League Baseball’s statistical mother lode. It is run by web coordinator Steve Janelle with help from friends.

The Slaterettes advertise themselves as the “only all-girls youth baseball league in the U.S.A.” The league will be featured on the Odyssey cable television channel later this year as part of a series on interesting aspects of American life.

“They found our league on the Internet,” said league president Don Phaneuf. “The Odyssey channel is doing a series on American culture and they thought the Slaterettes qualified. They had a camera crew here on May 7 and expect to have the show on the air in late summer or early fall.”

You can’t tell the Slaterettes’ story without starting at the beginning. That takes us back to the summer of 1973 and a 9-year-old girl from Pawtucket named Alison “Pookie” Fortin who wanted to play Little League baseball and was denied the opportunity by one of the local leagues, which was just following the charter provided it by Little League Baseball, Inc. The charter featured a clause which deemed the organization for “boys only.”

“The case went to court,” Phaneuf said, “and while it dragged on, some of the parents decided to start their own girls’ baseball league.”

The new organization was first named the “Darlington Pioneer League” because the girls were blazing a new trail back in those politically incorrect times. Within two years, the name changed to its current title and the league has never looked back, teaching young girls from the ages of 5 through 18 the finer nuances of the sport.

“The league has always been there to make sure girls have a place to come every year and play baseball” Phanuef said. “When girls play with boys, they are sometimes subjected to taunting and made to feel inferior. Kids do that when they are young. With our League, the girls can participate without the pressure of competition. There’s more camaraderie involved.”

Phaneuf explains some of the subtle differences between boys and gitls who play baseball.

“There really not any difference at the Tee-Ball level,” he admitted. “At that age, their grasp of the game is pretty much the same. The coordination and strength levels are similar. But as they grow into the 10-12 age group, the boys usually develop a little more strength that helps in throwing the ball and swing the bat. That’s why we really have to emphasize the basic skills because without proper technique, girls can lose their fluid motion while throwing the ball or swinging the bat.

Of course, not all young girls are less strong then the male counterparts. The Slaterettes annually develop some excellent young players who end up playing fast pitch softball in high school. Recent Tolman High graduate Bree Smith currently plays fast pitch softball at Elms College in Chicopee, Mass.

The Slaterettes league now plays at two different locations. The younger divisions call McCarthy Park next to the Boys and Girls Club on School St. their home field. The Senior Division has its own well-maintained field in Slater Park between the tennis courts and the duck pond.

Divisions range from Tee-Ball 9ages 5-7), Minors (8-10), Juniors (11-13), and Seniors (14-18).

League officers include: President Don Phanuef, Vice President Mike Cullinan, Equipment Bob Morrill, Player Agent Jay Smith, Uniform Manager Dave Hall, Instructional Division Director Dave Gard, Minor Division Director Scott Hillsman, Junior Division Director Steve Janelle, and Senior Division Director Darry Doyon, herself a former player.

“It’s very organized league,” Phanuef admitted. “People put a lot of work into what we are doing. We have around 165 girls playing ball this year.”

The Slaterettes Baseball League received extra attention in 1992 when Hollywood unveiled the movie “A League of Their Own” based on the old All-American Girls Professional Baseball League which disbanded in 1954.

This renewed interest in women’s produced a new touring team, the Colorado Silver Bullets. One Slaterettes graduate, Mindy McClane tried out for that squad. Women now play on more than 50 teams across the U.S., and the sport is growing in Japan, Canada and Australia.

And whatever happed to Pookie Fortin? She lost her legal battle and won the war. Her case against Little League Baseball Inc.’s “boys-only” charter clause was denied at the federal district court level in June 1974. Almost simultaneously to that decision, Little League Baseball Inc. revised its charter to allow both genders an opportunity to play baseball.

Pookie Fortin never resumed playing baseball with the boys. Maybe the Pawtucket Slaterettes Girls Baseball League is her true legacy.