By Anna Gustafson
When the 13 softball players on the Forest Hills Little League girl’s travel team took to their home field Friday night, they were making history.
The Friday competition of Katz’s Komets, sponsored by City Councilwoman Melinda Katz (Dâˆ’Forest Hills), was the first night game ever for the Forest Hills Little League — and the fact it was the Komets who played is a big feat for the girls’ league that was struggling to survive just five years ago.
“When I took over in 2004, girls were allowed 10 bucks for uniforms, and they wore Tâˆ’shirts and a pair of jeans,” said Joseph Nocerino, director of the Forest Hills girls’ softball league. “There were 9âˆ’yearâˆ’olds playing with 15âˆ’yearâˆ’olds, and there were maybe 25 girls.”
Now 130 girls play on 10 teams in three divisions and each player got a $45 uniform this year. The Forest Hills girls’ softball league has grown to be one of the biggest in Queens, Nocerino said. Though the majority of the players are from Forest Hills, there are girls from throughout Queens, including Middle Village, Kew Gardens and Maspeth.
“When I took over, they couldn’t play on Field 1, and now they’re playing on Field 1 and under lights,” Nocerino said.
Field 1 is the nicest out of the league’s four playing areas on Fleet Street in Forest Hills, Nocerino said.
In 2004 Nocerino revamped the girls’ softball program that had been around for five decades but lost a following from players. One of the biggest problems at the time was that female players had to choose to either play in the girl’s league, which had few age requirements and could pit sixthâˆ’graders against 17âˆ’yearâˆ’olds, or join baseball, where girls frequently got little field time on teams dominated by boys.
Now there are three divisions grouped by age, so girls are playing with people with comparable skill levels. The league also added a travel team for the oldest players last year.
“The league has definitely grown,” said Forest Hills resident and softball Coach Kathryn Thome. “They definitely didn’t have the respect the boys’ teams had in the past. The boys’ league has always had more players, and they dominated because they had the numbers.”
There are 58 boys’ baseball teams.
Elizabeth Reddy, a 15âˆ’yearâˆ’old from Forest Hills, has also witnessed a major change in the league she has played in since she was 9.
“When I was 12, they divided us into different age groups, and I got a lot more play time because I was with people my age,” Reddy said. “It became easier to grasp the game.”
As for the league’s future, Nocerino sees it continuing to get better.
“We want to see it grow,” he said. “It’s all about girl power. Girls should have the same vehicles that boys have.”
For now, the softball players said they are happy just having fun — and getting better. Though they lost the game 7âˆ’4 to WORKS, a team of players from Woodhaven, Ozone Park, and Richmond Hill, it was much better than last year’s competition against the same group, when they lost 15âˆ’0.
“We lost, but we had so much fun,” Nocerino said. “And that’s the whole point.”
Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by eâˆ’mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718âˆ’229âˆ’0300, Ext. 174.