NORTH PORT — Sister Toni Ann Palermo walked the line as girls toss a baseball back and forth at CoolToday Park recently.

Palermo commended the girls on their form.

She knows good form. She played for the Chicago Colleens and Springfield Sallies during the 1950s.

Like Sue Zipay, who started the North Port camp and played for the Rockford Peaches, Palermo was one of the girls who played professional women’s baseball in the 1950s — the league of female baseball players that inspired the 1991 film “A League of Their Own.”

She’s excited and happy to see girls wanting to play baseball. Palermo played shortstop in the 1950s.

The three-day camp took place recently at the new spring training facility for the Atlanta Braves in North Port. The camp is sponsored by American Girls Baseball — an offset of All-American Girls Professional Baseball League Players Association.

The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League Players Association formed in 1954 after the teams disbanded.

The return of girls baseball

The return of girls baseball started earlier this year with Zipay, who lives in Englewood now.

Her dream is to have a league of their own once again, though Zipay doesn’t want to replace softball, she just wants girls to have options.

“I feel great, I’m so excited,” Zipay said.

She added this has been where her heart has been. She’s talked about a women’s sports museum, but she wants girls to play baseball.

Zipay says she has found the motivation and excitement in talking to the girls who wanted to sign up and participate in the sport. For her, it’s giving girls the option to play baseball and move into professional ball.

“(I’m) hoping to spread it, to let them have a dream,” Zipay said.

The camp organized by Zipay is one of the first in her memory to be held at Major League Baseball stadium, that wasn’t hosted by the MLB. She was thankful to the Braves and the opportunity.

Girls take the field

On the first morning, 38 girls took to the back fields at CoolToday Park. The girls, between the ages of 5 and 12, jumped at the opportunity.

Families from all over took to the opportunity to sign up for the camp. While only three days, Zipay hopes it’ll expand.

She’d ideally like to host the camp again, along with expanding a league.

One of those mother’s is Sarah Rouse, from Frisco, Texas. All three of her girls Ellie, Allison and Julia play softball, but love playing baseball.

Rouse heard about the camp from Gloria Rogers, another former Peach. The girls actually play on a team called the Peaches.

It’s difficult for them to find other girls who want to play baseball, and while the team was assembled from a co-ed T-ball team, it’s still hard.

“I’ve reached out and I’d love to set up a league in Texas,” Rouse said.

The Rouse girls received the opportunity to play after being sponsored by Zipay, a donation from the North Port Walmart and Experient out of Sarasota.

Like Rouse, Tammy Hollonbeck of Tampa wants girls to have options. Her daughter, Payton, 9, is one of the the only girls in her league.

“(It’s) super exciting,” Hollonbeck said.

Her daughter was a little bit hesitant to play with girls. Hollonbeck said the biggest concern her daughter had was playing with girls who only played softball.

Baseball is much faster, and the ball is smaller.

Hollonbeck would like to see this be normal for girls and have them not treated differently. She says Payton can tell when coaches ease up on her and she doesn’t want that.

North Port resident Matt Mitchell, whose daughter, Ally, 5, was at camp, said it was awesome.

“She loves baseball, for her it’s a great opportunity,” Mitchell said.

Ally told her father that she wanted to be drafted to play professional baseball, ahead of the weekend camp,

“If she had that league, it would be awesome to have a choice,” Mitchell said.

Heather Ryan, who’s daughter, Ansley, 13, wanted to play baseball and jumped at the chance. The Port Charlotte resident thought it was a great opportunity.

“It’s exciting,” Ryan said.

The future

Palermo was impressed by the players.

“(There is) real potential here,” Palermo said.

Zipay hopes that the potential keeps growing and the girls keep wanting to play baseball.

“My vision is a league of our own,” Zipay told the group.


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