By RICHARD VIRGILIO
As Little League season begins, there is one woman to thank for ensuring girls everywhere get their turn at bat.
In 1974, a 10-year-old Janine Cinseruli told her mother that because of her gender she was not allowed to play in her Peabody, Massachusetts Little League. What ensued was months of legal curve balls with the help of the ACLU and a landmark decision by the State Supreme Court that affirmed a girl’s right to play baseball on the same team as the boys.
And Cinseruli made history by becoming the first girl welcomed into any Little League program.
“It was a very difficult summer for everyone because baseball was put on hold until the court made its ruling,” said Cinseruli. “We got hate mail and my brothers got picked on.”
The decision 40 years ago, which came after a federal law that stated no one could be excluded from an educational activity or program that received federal financial assistance, immediately impacted leagues across the country. The National Board of Little League Baseball Inc. cited “changing social climate” and welcomed girl players alongside boys everywhere to avoid costly lawsuits state-by-state.
“At the time, I wasn’t interested in changing the world,” said Cinseruli. “I knew I was as good or better than the boys on the team and I just wanted to play with my friends. It took me looking back at the summer of 1974 after becoming an adult to really understand what happened and what it meant.”
Sunday, Cinseruli returned to Peabody where she was celebrated as a trailblazer, role model for little girls and excellent pitcher.
“The Peabody Little League feels it is very important to honor Janine and the other women who took an unpopular stand but prevailed,” said league president Peter Lendell. “They are true role models for every girl and boy in our program.”
Cinseruli walked in the town’s Opening Day Little League parade, threw out the first pitch and was presented with a Certificate of Appreciation from the City of Peabody. She was reunited with some of her coaches and teammates and had the opportunity to speak with current fresh-faced players.
“I told them that they can do anything – they can change what is unjust,” said Cinseruli. “Stand up for what is right and what you believe in and everyone will win in the end.”
After Little League and high school, Cinseruli went on to play 10 years of semi-professional softball. Today, she is co-owner of Sea Grass restaurant in Ocean Grove.
“There are 60 girls playing this year,” said Cinseruli. “Those 10 year-olds didn’t really understand what the adults were talking about that happened 40 years ago. But their moms and dads did.”
2014 also marks the 75th Anniversary of the founding of the Little League.