By PAUL R. DUBOIS
Sports Editor | 04/24/2003
PAWTUCKET – It all began with a little girl’s desire to play baseball, and evolved into A League of Their Own.
The Pawtucket Slaterettes, the only female baseball program in the country that accommodates baseball playing girls from instructional league to adult, is celebrating its 30th anniversary.
Dave Gard, program president, said the Slaterettes, which has league members from throughout the Blackstone Valley and Massachusetts, began in 1973, when a 9 year old girl named Alison Pookie Fortin wanted to play baseball. Her parents attempted to register her in the local Darlington American Little League, but she was rebuffed because she was a girl and wanted to play in an all boy league. When she was denied, she and her family set the Little League community abuzz by taking the DALL to court. Pookie never played for DALL, but the family’s persistence led other female athletes and parents in Pawtucket to realize there should be an all girls baseball league for them to play in, and the Slaterettes were born.
It started slowly as a league for local girls 10-16, and appropriately was dubbed the Darlington Pioneers. Later, the Slaterettes moniker was adopted in honor of Pawtucket’s historic Slater Mill, and the league quickly grew in popularity.
Even as local Little league programs opened their doors to girls for the first time, girls seeking to play against their peers and wanting a variance from softball, poured into the program and it thrived, Gard said. During the fast-pitch softball boom of the 1990s, the league suffered in enrollment, but has been making a comeback. This year, one new team has been added to the instructional program. When the Slaterettes kick off their season on April 22 at McCarthy Park at 1 Moeller Place, it will be with just over 200 females baseball players ranging in age from 5 to 55 competing in four separate divisions, instructional (ages 5-7), minors (8-10), juniors (11-13), and seniors (14-?).
“The senior program is for any female over the age of 14. A few years back, the Slaterettes were forced to integrate their Major League (14-16) and Adult League because of dwindling enrollment, and it’s worked out just fine”, Gard said.
“We were concerned about the social aspects more than anything else because often adults and 14-year-olds don’t have a lot in common, but they’re all players, and baseball is their bond, so it’s worked out,” Gard said. “As far as the physical capabilities, the younger players more than hold their own because they tend to be in better shape.”
There are no border restrictions on the Slaterettes, and players from Cumberland, Lincoln, Attleboro, Rehoboth and West Warwick participate. Gard said many players who left this area to attend college are now returning, and the Slaterettes is the only place south of the Boston area where female baseball can be found.
The league basically features all in-house play, but the older teams do participate in tournaments when the opportunity arises. This season, there is a possibility that the adult program will host a team from Indiana, the president said.