×

‘It’s Just Baseball’: Girls Give Different Diamond a Try

  • Whitcomb-Rochester sophomore Emma Gillette plays right field in the seventh inning against Williamstown in Bethel, Vt., on May 15, 2017. Gillette started playing baseball when she was little with her brother Zak. “(Baseball) was harder,” she said. “It was more challenging for me.” (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Whitcomb-Rochester sophomore Emma Gillette helps pitcher Triston Irish warm up in the bullpen during their game with Williamstown in Bethel, Vt., on May 15, 2017. Gillette is amongst a handful of girls playing baseball in Vermont this season. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • South Royalton's Emily Ballou, one of two Upper Valley girls opting for baseball over other sports, at South Royalton at Rivendell baseball on Thursday, May 11, 2017, in Orford, N.H. South Royalton won, 5-1. (Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • South Royalton's Emily Ballou, one of two Upper Valley girls opting for baseball over other sports, at South Royalton at Rivendell baseball on Thursday, May 11, 2017, in Orford, N.H. South Royalton won, 5-1. (Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Emily Ballou

  • Emma Gillette



Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Rochester, Vt. — Playing softball has never interested Whitcomb High sophomore Emma Gillette. Whitcomb-Rochester baseball coach Chris Mattrick believes Gillette could earn a starting spot with the Mountaineers’ softball squad, but she has been adamant about her will to play with the boys.

South Royalton School senior Emily Ballou, on the other hand, has always wanted to play on a team coached by her father, Mike. She played softball her freshman and sophomore years before joining last season’s track team. Her final spring of varsity athletics seemed like the perfect time to fulfill a dream.

“I love playing ball,” Ballou said while warming up for South Royalton’s game at Rivendell on Thursday. “And it’s my senior year, so it’s my last chance to play for my dad. … I always wanted to.”

Neither Gillette nor Ballou asked nor required Vermont Principals Association approval to play varsity baseball. The pair are among at least five to 10 girls who choose to play baseball in Vermont in any given spring, according to VPA executive director Bob Johnson.

“Our policy is pretty straightforward,” he said. “Girls are allowed to play boys sports; boys are not allowed to play girls sports. … It comes down to competitive imbalance.”

Competitive imbalance occurs when the presence of male athletes — who generally are bigger, faster and stronger in comparison to their female counterparts — affect the outcome of a game, Johnson said.

“The big problem is in field hockey,” Johnson said. “When you’re talking about boys going onto a girls team, a boys physical presence, how hard they hit, how fast they are when playing goalie, there are a number of different scenarios that can dramatically impact the game.”

It’s part of the reason, Johnson said, that states designate boys-specific and girls-specific sports.

Ballou was the Royals’ starting softball pitcher for two seasons and led South Royalton to a VPA Division IV championship in 2015. Going out for track in 2016, she said, was “cool, to test your fitness levels.”

Despite having a baseball coach for a father, the adjustment to the game wasn’t as easy as Ballou, who plays outfield and second base, expected. Mike Ballou said throwing overhand took some extra attention in early-season practices.

But off the field, the transition has been seamless.

“I was already good friends with a bunch of the guys on the team since we were babies,” Ballou said. “We’re pretty close.”

For Mike Ballou, having his daughter on the team for her senior season has created a special bond.

“Truthfully, it’s been a lot of fun,” Mike Ballou said. “I expect the same out of her as I expect out of the boys. … In the dugout, half the time some of the kids don’t know what the count is. She’s focused in.

“She loves to learn how to play the game,” he added. “Hopefully, one day, she’ll be a great coach.”

Gillette never thought of doing anything else other than play baseball. It started when she was little, playing with her older brother, Zak. Gillette played for Whitchester’s junior varsity baseball squad last year; the Mountaineers lacked the numbers for a full jayvee team this spring.

“(Baseball) was harder,” Gillette said. “It was more challenging for me.”

It is rare for a female athlete to join a boys team when any particular athletic department offers a girls equivalent in their sport of choice. There are occasional exceptions, sometimes created by circumstance: Stowe’s Hannah McNulty, played 17 games for the Raiders’ boys basketball team after the girls team folded after its season opener in 2011. But the issue of multi-gendered athletics has been debated since coming to the forefront in the 1980s, particularly for males joining girls sports like field hockey.

For Johnson, differences between any particular sport in question change the circumstances of any debate that might arise.

“A lot of times, you don’t hear about them being on there,” Johnson said last week. “It’s not a new thing. Our policy has been there since the 1980s.”

Mattrick, the Whitchester baseball coach, said he’s impressed by Gillette’s commitment and has rewarded the sophomore with playing time.

On Thursday, Gillette’s name was called in the sixth inning of Whitchester’s game against Poultney at Rochester’s Recreation Field. She struck out in the bottom of the sixth on a high 3-2 pitch and caught a fly ball in right field in the top of the seventh to help the Mountaineers hold on for a 16-12 victory.

Neither Mattrick nor Mike Ballou could remember South Royalton, Whitcomb or Rochester ever having a girl come out for baseball before Emily Ballou and Emma Gillette. But the athletes don’t see themselves as barrier-breakers. They’re playing the sport they love, just like everyone else.

“A lot of people refer to it as ‘boys baseball.’ ” Ballou said. “It’s just baseball.”

Josh Weinreb can be reached at jweinreb@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.