MAKERS Profile

Maria Pepe

Little League's First Girl

In this video

Maria Pepe on her role in opening up Little League to girls and the legacy, four decades later.
It’s the three-game Little League pitching career “heard ‘round the world.” Maria Pepe was eleven years old when the neighborhood boys with whom she had been playing sandlot baseball brought her forward as a prospect for Hoboken Little League. By pitching in the spring of 1972, she became the first girl in more than two decades to even try to participate in one of America’s most beloved youth pastimes. Little League’s national powers-that-be moved quickly to remove her from competition. "The hardest part,” she would later recall, “was when they took my uniform away.” The National Organization for Women brought a 1973 suit on behalf of Pepe’s right to play and the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights sided with the young pitcher, whom Judge Sylvia Pressler called a "very, very courageous girl." The case moved up the courts and over the following year she and her family endured scrutiny and even threats and intimidation. Some encouragement came from the local team across the river: the New York Yankees named her “Yankee For A Day” as the controversy dragged on.   The New Jersey Superior Court eventually ruled, in 1974, that Little League must allow girls to play. The decision came too late to save Pepe’s own Little League career, but opened up the game and changed the lives of millions of girls. Pepe went on to earn a bachelor’s and business degree and to serve as Controller of the Hackensack University Medical Center. In 2004, she got a second chance to ascend the pitching mound when she threw the ceremonial first ball at that year’s Little League World Series.

More From Maria

My Coach Jimmy
Not everyone opposed Pepe playing ball. Pepe's coach Jimmy gave her crucial encouragement.

Bittersweet Victory
Pepe remembers the day the Little League ruling was delivered and her conflicting emotions.

Judge Silvia Pressler
How one bold female Judge made the difference for Pepe and thousands of girls.

Family’s Pride
Pepe muses on how her achievement integrating Little League may have turned her traditional Italian family's expectations on their head.

Wanting to be a Boy
Pepe turned to God to help make sense of her circumstances as a girl.

Sport's Life Lessons
Pepe discusses the value of playing sports and the lessons it can teach all children.

Get Back Up
Pepe's advice for getting through life's difficulties and seeing the bigger picture.

Escaping Stereotypes
Children might not have fancy words for it, but they understand discrimination in the most direct way.

Standing Up to Pressure
What made Pepe, even as an overwhelmed young girl, stick with her struggle against the Little League's "no girls" policy? 

Girls Don't Play Sports
Pepe's description of what she faced as a girl interested in sports during the 50s.

Neighborhood Ballplayers
Before being kicked off her Little League team, Pepe was just "one of the guys" in her neighborhood games.

Meaning of Feminism
Pepe shares her common sense understanding of "feminism."