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She got game: more girls than ever are playing high school sports, but getting onto the baseball diamond can still be a challenge.

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Marti Sementelli has been a baseball player since preschool, tossing plastic balls and swinging a tiny wood bat from the time she was 3 years old. She was a solid player at every youth level, and sometimes a star. In 2007, Nike even featured the young Californian in a TV commercial.

Despite her experience, Sementelli, now 16, had a hard time finding a high school that would allow her to try out for the boys' baseball team.

Two parochial schools near her family's home in North Hollywood said no, and several public schools were lukewarm to the idea. Finally, she found Burbank High School, where she's now a sophomore and a member of the JV baseball team.

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Sementelli's story is not unique. Across the country, girls devoted to baseball--and with as many seasons of youth ball under their belts as their male teammates--are finding it isn't easy to stay in the sport when they reach high school.

Biology does play a role in the situation: Boys, especially older ones, often have an edge over girls in size and strength, allowing them to throw harder and swing with greater force. But girls say that the toughest battles are not about capabilities, but against the stereotypical attitude that baseball is for boys.

"Most people just are incapable of seeing beyond what's easy," says Jennifer Ring, the author of Stolen Bases: Why American Girls Don't Play Baseball, and a professor at the University of Nevada-Reno. "It is much neater if we say boys play baseball and girls play other sports."

In at least one state, Massachusetts, girls are barred from trying out for boys' baseball in high schools that also offer softball. Nebraska dropped its ban last year, and in January, Indiana eliminated its ban after being sued by the parents of Logan Young, a 15-year-old aspiring catcher and freshman at Bloomington South High School.

TITLE IX'S IMPACT

Young's lawsuit challenged the ban on the basis of the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution's 14th Amendment and Title IX, part of a 1972 federal law that bars sex discrimination in schools and colleges that accept federal funds (which is virtually all schools). Title IX has been widely credited with significantly expanding girls' participation in high school and college sports. In 1972, fewer than 300,000 girls participated in high school sports; last year, more than 3 million did.

Still, skepticism remains. "I don't know how good these girls are that want to do this, but they'd have so much more success if they competed in girls' sports," says Blake Ress, commissioner of the Indiana High School Athletic Association.

But there are no girls' baseball teams; most high schools offer girls' softball, which is played with a larger ball on a smaller diamond. "It's like saying Ping-Pong and tennis are the same sport," says Marti Sementelli.

Last year, 1,012 girls played for high school baseball teams, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. The actual count may be higher because schools sometimes fail to report girls playing on boys' teams. California, with 385, is the state with the most female players.

A decision to stick with baseball can come at a high price. The best high school softball players can earn college scholarships--there are more than 260 N.C.A.A. Division I softball programs. But the best girls in high school baseball are very unlikely to ever play baseball at the college level.

Stacy Piagno, 17, is a senior pitcher on the boys' varsity team at Pedro Menendez High School in St. Augustine, Florida. She doesn't throw as hard as some male teammates--75 miles per hour at best, she says. But she compensates with an effective knuckle-curve, a deceptive pitch her father taught her.

Piagno says she has to prove she belongs on the field every game. When she goes out to pitch, Piagno says, "There's usually someone shouting, 'Oh, it's a girl!' They think they'll come up and cream me. After the game"--she pauses a beat--"usually thoughts have changed."

Mark Hyman writes about baseball for The New York Times.
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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Author:Hyman, Mark
Publication:New York Times Upfront
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 20, 2009
Words:689
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