Christine Cipriano can empathize with Sydney Phillips.
When Cipriano was 15, she wanted to play baseball. That was 1975, when the growth of girls’ sports was in the early stages, and playing organized athletics with the opposite sex was rarely tolerated. But the Staten Island Babe Ruth League gave her a spot on one of their baseball rosters and, guess what? The world didn’t end.
“If the fact that I was playing made anyone unhappy, I never knew,” Cipriano said.
So when Cipriano learned that Phillips, a seventh-grader, was denied a chance to play with the boys even though her school, St. Theresa’s of Kenilworth, New Jersey, didn’t have a girls’ team, it took her by surprise.
She thought those shortsighted days were long gone.
“If she wants to play and has the skills, why not give her an opportunity?” Cipriano said. “At that age, what’s the big deal? Missing a year of playing the sport could hurt her development.”
Cipriano never expected a baseball career would spring from that one season of playing Babe Ruth ball. To her, it was all about the fun and the chance to compete in a sport she enjoyed.
Playing sports with the boys wasn’t a new thing for Cipriano.
“I was always playing with the boys in the streets,” she said. “Football, basketball and baseball. I had a great arm.”
While she was on the softball and girls’ bowling teams at New Dorp High School, she wasn’t aware that there were, in fact, some girls’ softball leagues cropping up. When she mentioned to her uncle, who was active at the Staten Island Little League, that she wished she could play organized baseball, he inquired about the possibility. Next thing Cipriano knew, she was invited to a practice.
“It was a little odd, and my teammates did get teased sometimes, but they wound up supporting me,” Cipriano said. “If any of the parents weren’t happy about it, I never knew it. In fact, I remember the parents from the other teams coming to the field and asking where the girl is playing.”
That wasn’t always easy to tell, she laughed, since she had short hair and really didn’t look much different than the boys, “except I was smaller.”
And while she only played that one year, the fond memories of being the only girl in an all-boys league for 13- to 15-year-olds remain with her to this day.
“I remember getting hit by a pitch in the back, which hurt — that wasn’t so great,” she said with a chuckle. “I played mostly right field, and had some hits. In fact, I hit a home run.”
To her surprise, she was asked to take part in the league’s all-star game.
She didn’t go back for a second season, however. “Some of the boys had gotten so big by 16, 17 years old, I knew it wouldn’t be a good idea to continue.”
She did distinguish herself as a high school athlete, and her bowling prowess extended into adulthood. She made her mark on Staten Island’s bowling circuit and, in fact, was elected to the Staten Island Bowling Hall of Fame.
While not bowling these days, sports are still a part of her life. Besides working as a nurse and massage therapist, Cipriano is a certified golf teaching professional with golf netting all around her coaching yard, specializing in helping men and women use golf to foster business relationships. Known as “the putting queen,” that side of the story is on her website: www.fitforthetee.com.
“Some guys don’t like being shown up by a girl; it’s an ego thing with some of them,” Cipriano said. “I still see that on the golf course.”
But 42 years ago, the boys welcomed Cipriano to share the baseball field with them. She proved she was up to it — and had an experience she’ll always treasure.
Joe LoVerde has coached youth sports on Staten Island for more than 40 years. He’s also a longtime newspaper editor and sportswriter.