After Title IX, Still Many “Firsts” in New Jersey

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It’s been 50 years since Title IX became the law of the land.

In 37 words, this historic passage opened the door for gender equality in sport, education and society to take shape across the United States. All these years later, many doors are still open for girls who play sports.

In New Jersey, there are plenty of untold stories of women making daily progress in male-dominated athletic spaces. Today, I’m going to take a moment to highlight some of the modern “firsts” for women and girls in Garden State sports.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but rather an ambitious start to be honest. If you have any suggestions for stories like these, my email is [email protected]

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From little league to college baseball

The first recorded game of modern baseball is believed to have been played in Hoboken in 1846. Another historic first in Hoboken? In the 1970s, the city led the way in a civil rights battle that paved the way for girls to play Little League baseball. It’s all thanks to Marie Pepethen just a 12-year-old girl in Hoboken who dressed up and pitched three games for her Young Democrats team in 1972.

The youth team have been told they can only continue playing if Pepe is out of the squad. It was a heartbreaking moment that ended Pepe’s Little League career. But the National Organization for Women soon sued Little League Baseball on Pepe’s behalf. In 1974, the New Jersey Superior Court ruled that girls should be allowed to gamble. By then, Pepe was too old to continue acting, but she opened a door for millions of girls to follow her.

Today, many New Jersey girls continue to prove that baseball’s ceiling has no limits for them. There are Alexia Jorge of Lyndhurst, who plays college baseball at Saint Elizabeth University. She is one of the first young women to do so in the United States. At Montclair State University, sabrina robinson this year began the first women’s varsity baseball club at the school. The team is one of many being formed across the country in an effort to have women’s baseball sanctioned by the NCAA as an individual sport.

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First Varsity Women’s Wrestling Team

In the heart of Jersey City, a group of women are making history every day as New Jersey’s first women’s varsity wrestling team. The City University of New Jersey The team was founded in 2021 and is actively recruiting new players across the region. In February, the team took the next step by hosting the first-ever women’s collegiate wrestling match in New Jersey.

(Left) Johnae Drumright and Naomi Henry during NJCU Women's Wrestling Practice at the John Moore Athletic Center in Jersey City on Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. The NJCU was on course to make history at the fall.  For the first time in New Jersey, there would be a varsity team of female wrestlers.  Then COVID-19 arrived.

Girls’ wrestling has exploded across the country, especially in New Jersey. It’s only natural that the next step was to establish a pathway for girls to continue wrestling at the college level. There are several active teams across the country. However, girls in this region often had to choose from a limited number of universities far from home. This path isn’t always a viable option for athletes, so having a program like NJCU in a state with a booming number of female wrestlers has been a game-changer.

An inclusive skateboarding community

Last summer, skateboarding made its debut as an Olympic sport in Tokyo, as a movement to make the sport more inclusive gained momentum around the world. In Montclair, Meeting room skate, an inclusive skate collective that offers women and non-binary people a safe space to skate, was formed to meet this demand. The small collective hosts multi-hour sessions every weekend inside Rand Park.

The collective was created by Olivia Karny before the pandemic. Once the world began to reopen, the collective gained momentum and expanded into surrounding areas, including Paterson. Some skaters commute from as far away as Morristown to Montclair sessions because they provided a safe space for girls to skate in a space free from judgment and harassment. The collective is also part of a larger effort to grow skateboarding in general in Montclair with a permanent skatepark in town.

More changes, more stories

Many such stories remain untold, but it’s something I’m actively working to change through my work and this column.

Just today, on the 50th anniversary of Title IX, the U.S. Department of Education released proposed regulatory changes that, in part, would increase protections for LGBTQ students, strengthen victims’ rights, and change how schools investigate allegations of sexual assault and harassment. In many ways, these proposed changes could open the door for countless more stores to tell over the next 50 years.

Women & Sports is a new NorthJersey.com column dedicated to female athletes from the recreational league level to those of college and pro. If you have any advice on a North Jersey athlete that should be noted in the column, regardless of age or age, please message me at [email protected]

Melanie Anzidei is a reporter for NorthJersey.com. To get unlimited access to the latest news, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @melanieanzidei

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