During the 2014 Little League World Series held in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania, a team from South Philadelphia (the Taney Dragons) made history. It was the Dragons’ first year making it to the tournament, after being chartered only two years before in 2012. Not only that, but a 13-year-old girl named Mo’ne Davis became the first female to pitch a winning LLWS game: a first round shut out against Nashville. In the end the Taney Dragons lost their semifinal game in the United States bracket to a team from Chicago.
It is safe to say that Mo’ne Davis stole the spotlight during the Little League World Series. She was the first American female to participate in the tournament since 2004, and the first African American girl to play in the LLWS. Before Davis, 17 other girls from around the world played in the tournament, but none were as high profile as Davis. Perhaps it is because of her unbelievable natural talent, or that she was throwing 70 mph fastballs and striking out players with ease.
Mo’ne Davis grew up in South Philly with her mother Lakeisha McLean, father Lamar Davis, stepfather Mark Williams, and her brothers and little sister. When she was seven years old (in 2008), Coach Steve Bandura found Mo’ne throwing a football in perfect spirals, and playing with her cousins and older brother. She made it look effortless. Bandura asked Davis if she was interested in coming to a basketball practice, the only catch: it was all boys. That didn’t phase Davis during practice as she picked up the three-man-weave simply by watching a couple rounds of the drill. She became Bandura’s best basketball player and basketball became Davis’ favorite sport.
But Mo’ne is better known for her young career as a baseball player. In Philadelphia, the Taney Little League is thriving. There has been a lot of talk recently about how sports like soccer and lacrosse are taking over youth athletics, but this is not the case with Taney. The Taney Little League is unique. It is an inner city league that, unlike suburban leagues, doesn’t own any baseball fields and doesn’t have concession stands to make extra money. Despite all this, the league is still successful. Taney brings in kids from all over Philadelphia, many of whom are from some of the poorest neighborhoods. The league offers reasonable fees, a financial aid program, and an equipment-sharing program that any family can benefit from. Taney is all about inclusion of boys and girls, black and white, from the richest to poorest neighborhoods. Mo’ne may never have had this opportunity if it wasn’t for Taney and it’s emphasis on inclusion.
During her unbelievable journey at the Little League World Series, where she became a household name, Mo’ne was unique. Not only were her talents exceeding every other players’, but she was a girl and she was African American. Although she is young, she represents the American Dream: a young African American girl cultivates her talents with hard work, makes history at the LLWS, and becomes a role model for boys and girls alike.
In Spike Lee’s short documentary about Davis I Throw Like a Girl, he interviews her family, Coach Bandura, other individuals from Philly, and Mo’ne herself. They discuss her success, what she is like as an athlete, her dreams, and how she has become a role model for so many kids. The end of the documentary addresses her importance as a role model for children everywhere. Duwayne Terry (a city council constituent services representative) reminisces about two boys who were pitching back and forth to each other one afternoon: “I overhear one of them say, ‘I’m Mo’ne’ and the other one says, ‘No, I’m Mo’ne’. We all know girls aspire to be Mo’ne, but here are two boys talking about what it is to be Mo’ne and pitch and perform at that level.” She set a standard that no other female athlete has really accomplished. And she is doing this all at 13-years old, with the majority of her career in front of her.
Mo’ne is also a role model specifically for female athletes. She inspires female athletes who are both younger than her, and others who are older and more accomplished. Julia Terry (an Art Well program founder) is also interviewed in Lee’s documentary. She discusses the phrase of what it means to “throw like a girl”: “Mo’ne Davis flips that whole idea on its head by showing that to throw like a girl, to be a young woman, can mean anything, and it can mean success, achievement, power, and courage.” That is what makes Mo’ne such a special athlete. She brings to the spotlight what all female athletes and coaches have known all along: that women can be just as good and just as successful as men.
With the Taney Dragon’s win over Pearland Texas on Sunday August 17, Davis made the National Cover of Sports Illustrated, beating out NBA MVP Kobe Bryant. It shot her career along even farther, making Mo’ne Davis truly a household name. And this is only the beginning for Davis. She has set the standard for female athletes, African American athletes, and really any amateur athlete. She has shown how tangible success is with passion and perseverance. As the Sports Illustrated header says: “Remember her Name”, because Davis is not going anywhere.