Donna Williams pitches for an American Legion Baseball team in Fremont, Calif. Courtesy John and Bev Williams

Baseball not just for the boys

On and off the field, people continuously chatter whether girls should or should not be allowed to play baseball - with many leaning toward the latter. This controversy, unfortunately, has girls, who are passionate about playing the male-dominant sport reverting to softball. But thankfully, not all baseball teams adopt the "no girls allowed rule," as one organization's rule book displays fairness amongst boys and girls: The American Legion Baseball rule book.

"The American Legion has a long history of providing opportunities to anyone that wants to play baseball," American Legion National Baseball Subcommittee Chairman Larry Price said. "Our program has always dictated that talent is the determining factor if they make a team or not."

Due to the support from baseball teams such as the Legion, girls don't have to switch over to softball - a foreign concept to girls who've known the ropes of baseball since they could walk. One of those girls is 18-year-old Donna Williams from Fremont, Calif., whose baseball career began at only 18 months old with her father pitching to her in their backyard.

Besides T-Ball, Little League, travel teams and high school baseball, Williams played Legion ball for the Tri-City Eagles last season as a pitcher, catcher, shortstop and second baseman.

"I enjoyed playing Legion baseball because there was a high level of competition, and we played different teams from around the region, not just locally," Williams said. "My overall experience was fantastic, and I enjoyed the competition as well as the players."

After years of being told to switch over to softball, Williams listened to her parents' encouragement of never giving up because "someone says you can't or it's difficult," Williams said. "Once I was playing baseball, I told myself that baseball was my passion, it was my game. I never really thought of converting over to softball. Probably the reason is that I wanted to play baseball, a sport that is very difficult to achieve, a male-dominant sport, and it was that I could prove to myself and to others that I can do anything and be successful if I work hard at it."

And successful she is. With a future goal to play baseball in college and a lifelong goal to be the first female to play in the major leagues; with her track record, it looks like a curve ball won't be able to stop Williams. As a pitcher, catcher and third baseman for the varsity baseball squad at American High School, Williams is the first and only girl to play on the team.

"My advice (to girls) is to not let people tell you that you can't play baseball because you are a girl playing with boys," Williams said. "Just go out and play your best, show people who you are and that you deserve to play."

Additionally, Williams isn't the only one to successfully show that underhand pitching isn't for every girl. Marti Sementelli, who once played Legion Baseball in Burbank, Calif., is currently a pitcher on the varsity baseball team at Birmingham High School in Lake Balboa, Calif. The 17-year-old has known the pitch of a baseball since she was 2 years old, a solid understanding that enabled her to allow one hit in seven innings against Australia during the 2008 Women's Baseball World Cup in Japan. Her strong overhand pitching skills helped her team win against Australia and even land a television commercial for world-renowned sports apparel company Nike.

Sementelli knows that playing at a competitive level isn't easy and attributes her success to her father's encouragement. "My dad has been with me every step of the way," she said. "He gives me hope."

Moreover, 14-year-old Emiko Phillips from Chandler, Ariz., is the pitcher for a local Triple A baseball team and pitched a three-up, three-down inning. "I've learned that you have to try your hardest and not listen to what boys say about girls playing," Phillips said.

While these elite athletes know that playing alongside boys and at the same caliber takes effort, Jim Nemerovski of San Francisco, is one of their biggest supporters. Nemerovski's daughter, Jessica, is the only girl in San Francisco playing high school varsity baseball. After years of watching Jessica receive unequal opportunity in the baseball industry, Nemerovski reached out to encourage all young girls to pursue their passion of baseball by creating two Web sites - and

"Girls should be given the same opportunity to play at the highest level and not have to compromise because they are girls," Nemerovski said. "They should feel welcomed, because any negativity is what tends to kill the opportunity, the drive and the passion."

These girls have accomplished great things, but others don't always get the chance because of their gender. However, with Legion Baseball, girls are welcomed and encouraged to try out and play at the same caliber as the boys.

"It is very refreshing when we hear of a young lady playing American Legion Baseball, especially when one takes into consideration how highly competitive our program is," Price said. "Not only have the young ladies playing baseball today challenged social trends, they did so using their talents and strong determination. I, and nearly everyone involved in American Legion Baseball, admire their resolve and willpower."