Reyes, Stonehouse breaking barriers

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- Two girls are doing their part to mark the 25th anniversary of Little League Baseball's gender barrier being broken.

Katie Reyes and Bryn Stonehouse are only the second pair of girls to play in the same Little League World Series in the 63-year history of the tournament.

Reyes plays first base and the outfield for Canada. Stonehouse plays first, third, and the outfield for Saudi Arabia.

They are among 15 girls who ever have participated in the annual tournament of 12- and 13-year-old baseball players taking place in Williamsport, a town in the heart of north-central Pennsylvania nestled next by the banks of the Susquehanna River at the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains.

Although 13 girls have played in the Little League World Series since 1984, when Victoria Roche, a member of the Belgium Little League team, became the first girl to break the tournament's gender barrier, no girl had played in the Little League World Series since 2004, when Alexandra Bellini of Ottawa, Canada, and Meghan Sims of Owensboro, Ky., became the first pair of girls to play in the same year in Williamsport.

Stonehouse, born in Katy, Texas, but whose family moved to Saudi Arabia four years ago, is cognizant of what it means for a girl to play at the Little League World Series. "I feel like I am carrying on that history," said the 13-year-old, who also is happy to "go out and eat food that you don't get to eat when you are in Saudi Arabia."

Reyes is aware of the historical significance of what it means for her to be in Williamsport, but she loves to play baseball so much that breaking the gender barrier is secondary. "I just want to play baseball. It is a lot of fun. I like it every part of the game," Reyes said.

She admits, however, that her parents are more excited about her unique part of history than she is. "They are speechless," she said.

Reyes' parents, Hercules and Rachel Reyes, are Philippine immigrants who moved to Vancouver before Katie was born. Katie's love for the game sprouted when her 11-year-old brother, Matthew, started playing in a local league. "I just wanted to help him," Katie Reyes said.

Unlike Stonehouse, Reyes has never played softball and does not play any other organized sport. Reyes wants to keep playing baseball even after she can no longer play at the Little League level.

But Stonehouse can't wait to play softball.

"When I get back to high school I would rather play softball. That is what I started out with and I can be with people like me," Stonehouse said.

Stonehouse and Reyes are roommates in Williamsport. All of the Little League World Series players are housed in a state-of-the-art complex adjacent to the playing fields. The complex is a haven for the 192 youngsters from 16 teams and nine countries. It has a swimming pool, a game room, dining facilities -- and parents are not allowed to enter.

Coaches and volunteer chaperones from the Williamsport community are the only adults allowed within the gates of the complex. The players find ways to interact, regardless of affiliation, ethnicity, language and gender.

"Bryn has been around so long that it doesn't seem any different. The boys act like boys around her. It is kind of like having a sister there," explained Don Somogye, manager of the Saudi Arabian team, who, along with Stonehouse, was waiting at the exit of the complex embers of the team to join them for a pregame practice.

"It takes boys longer to get ready than girls," Somogye said.

In fact, Somogye sees Stonehouse as one of the leaders of his squad. "She is one of the more mature kids on the team. She does a great job talking about the game. She will pick up things during a game and bring them to my attention."

Saudi Arabia lost to Japan on Saturday, 5-2, in its first game of the tournament. Stonehouse was not in the starting lineup, but she came in to play first and third base and was hitless in her only at-bat.

Reyes was in the starting lineup of Canada's first game of the Little League World Series on Saturday, a 2-1 loss to Mexico. She hit ninth in the order, played a flawless first base, but also was hitless in one official at-bat.

For Mexico, it was the second time its national team had played against a Canadian team that had a girl in the lineup. In 1990, a team from British Colombia had pitcher Kelly Craig start against Matamoros. Craig quickly loaded the bases; she was moved to first base, and Canada beat Mexico 8-3.

"It was a shock that a team with a girl beat us," said Sergio Guzman Cortes, a Little League Baseball official from Mexico City who was in Williamsport on Saturday to cheer for his team. Guzman Cortes remembers well the impact the loss had on Mexican baseball fans.

Today, however, the members of the Mexican squad are used to facing teams with girls on their rosters. "For the last three years we have played against three girls," Raul Rojas, the winning pitcher for Mexico, said during the postgame news conference.

The fact that girls can play competitive baseball does not amaze Mexico's manager Agustin Montoya. "It seems like every year, we play a team from Jalisco that has a girl on their team that has been playing in baseball tournaments since she was 5 years old," he said.

Little League Baseball has come a long way since it first resisted the participation of girls. Kathryn "Tubby" Johnson played in a Little League game in 1950, in Corning, N.Y., but Little League Baseball Inc. did not formally allow girls to participate in its sanctioned leagues until 1974, two years after President Nixon signed Title IX into law, which gave women and girls greater opportunities to participate in athletics.

Little League Baseball finally revised its rules following a New Jersey Supreme Court's order to admit girls.

Today, Rachel Reyes hopes that other girls follow in her daughter's footsteps, and that other communities lend support to their girls.

"If my daughter playing in the Little League World Series is an encouragement for girls to play baseball, then it is great," she said. "They love the sport; [playing] gives them a chance just like Katie had. She had a great coach and great people surrounding her. We supported her in what she wanted."