Women behind 'A League of Their Own' speak at HOF

Shweta Karikehalli | The Daily Star  All-American Girls Professional Baseball League members Lois Youngen and Sister Toni Palermo speak at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum on Friday, Sept. 20.

COOPERSTOWN — Twenty-two All-American Girls Professional Baseball League members en route to a reunion in Syracuse gathered at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum on Friday, Sept. 20.

The AAGPBL was established in 1943 to fill a gap left in baseball by men being drafted to serve in World War II, according to its website.

The AAGPBL, which operated from 1943 to 1954, gave more than 600 female athletes the opportunity to play professional baseball at a level that previously wasn’t available to them.

Their story was the inspiration for the popular 1992 film “A League of Their Own.”

At the 2019 reunion, league members started the day by speaking with local high-schoolers. More than 100 students and student athletes from Cooperstown Central School and Edmeston and Roxbury central schools got to chat with the AAGPBL members about their time in the league.

There was also a “Women in Baseball” artifact spotlight hosted by John Odell and a “A League of Their Own” panel discussion.

League member Sister Toni Palermo said when she was 11, her physical education teacher encouraged her to try out for a professional softball league in Chicago. Palermo, who became a nun later in life, was recruited into the AAGPBL a few years afterward, and played two years with the Chicago Colleens and the Springfield Sallies, playing shortstop throughout her career.

“I was very fast and very strong, but they knew when I hit the ball, I hit the ball,” she said.

Though Palermo said she believes girls have been held back from baseball in the United States, the outlook is good. She said she partially attributes the success of herself and those with who she played, to positive attitudes and camaraderie.

“We just got along,” she said. “We never felt jealous, the spirit was exceptional. We were buddies until we got on the field.”

League member Lois Youngen grew up playing baseball with boys from her town, and played on a boys’ team for several years before switching to a girls’ softball team while in high school, according to AAGPBL’s website. She joined the league in 1951 and played for Fort Wayne, Kenosha and South Bend as a catcher and outfielder.

Youngen used the money she earned as a player to go to college, eventually earning a doctorate in physical education and teaching at the University of Oregon.

Though Youngen and Palermo no longer play professional baseball, they both said that they’d like to take a few swings again if the opportunity arose.

“I’m not ready to hang up my cleats yet,” Youngen said.

Shweta Karikehalli, staff writer, can be reached at skarikehalli@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7221. Follow her @DS_ShwetaK on Twitter.

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