EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

May 12, 2013

Sharon Poole: Haverhill's Little League pioneer

In 1971, Sharon Poole was first girl to crack Little League gender barrier

Tom Vartabedian

---- — At a time when girls were prevented from playing Little League baseball, Sharon Poole certainly opened a few doors.

In Haverhill and across the country.

Because of her persistence, she broke down barriers.

It was late June of 1971 and I was enamored by this 5-3, 110-pound, 12-year-old girl from Haverhill whose story wound up making Life Magazine and just about every TV network across the land. She put Haverhill on the map and sent reporters and cameramen scampering to our ball fields.

She starred for two games for the Indians, the second despite a large hostile crowd and the eye-opening media hoopla.

In the first game, she batted cleanup against the Twins with an RBI single, a walk, a run, a strikeout and errorless play in center field.

After Game 2, there was a special meeting of managers. She was barred from the league and her manager was fired.

She was in Life Magazine, Newsweek and even on the Dick Cavett Show. The New York Times ran a half-page story with the headline, “The Town Doesn’t Support Her.”

Here’s what a Boston Globe editorial wrote about the flap:

“One expects occasional scandals in adult baseball. Shoeless Joe Jackson yesterday. Denny McLain today. No doubt, someone else tomorrow. It is the way of sports flesh in the wicked grown-up world.

“Now comes the shattering news that a girl player temporarily infiltrated a Little League team in Haverhill. Because she is so young, Sharon could not perceive how heinous it was for a girl to be playing in Little League.”

A Haverhill Gazette poll showed sympathy for her situation. In fact, the only place the freckled-faced redhead who was called “Sweetie Bird” got any real opposition was in the league for which she played so briefly. And that came mainly from adults.

“The kids thought I did a good job,” she said at the time. “My teammates didn’t mind. I don’t know why they won’t let me play.”

She later got reinstated and helped her Indians team to first place. She played a steady center field, and wound up with a lifetime batting average of .400 before moving over to girls softball as a pitcher.

I made the Sharon Poole controversy my business. It got so annoying, she probably hated to see me come, given all this attention and hullabaloo.

Intolerance was put to rest and opened some very big doors in our national pastime. James Waldron, the mayor at that time, filed legislation to eliminate discrimination on city property.

His ordinance provided that any discrimination against an individual because of race, religion, sex or nationality would prevent an organization from the use of any municipal field.

Either play Sharon Poole or remove yourself from our ballparks.

Two of my grandsons now play Little League baseball on the same team. They share the lineup with girls and one of them can wallop the ball. She answers to Alice.

“She’s the best one on the team,” one of them rejoiced. “Wish I could hit like Alice.”

I had to smile. I hope Sharon Poole realizes the legacy she started.