ST. MARY'S CITY, Md. -- The first baseman on the St. Mary's College men's baseball team achieved a sports and social milestone Friday and it wasn't because of her hitting, fielding or throwing.
Julie Croteau, an 18-year-old freshman from Manassas, Va., became the first woman to play for a men's collegiate team in what the NCAA refers to as the modern era of college sports (post-World War II) when she started at first base for St. Mary's College against Spring Garden (Pa.) College.
Croteau played the first five innings of the 4-1 loss by St. Mary's, a National Collegiate Athletic Association Division III team. She grounded out three times and played flawlessly in the field, recording six put-outs, including one nice catch on a wind-blown pop-up.
More important, however, was Croteau's presence on the playing field.
'I'm proud to be the first, I admit,' Croteau said after the game. 'I'm really excited. I think I'm the first for a lot of reasons - circumstances, opportunity, stubborness. There are definitely a lot of others who could have been here and hopefully there are a lot of others who will be.'
Croteau said she had not intended to make history.
'I never tried to make a statement. I just tried to play baseball,' Croteau said. 'But I guess I am making a statement now. I hope this makes it easier for other girls to play because it's hard.'
Circumstances conspired to delay Croteau's debut, as the weather twice rendered the school's field unplayable in the past week. But the sun shined brilliantly on Croteau and her teammates Friday in this town 68 miles southeast of Washington, D.C.
After fighting off pre-game jitters, she ran onto the field with her teammates, her ponytail bouncing out from the back of her blue baseball cap. Few fans attended the game because the school was in spring break, but her parents, friends and school officials were in attendance.
The game culminated a long struggle for Croteau. Last year, Croteau and her parents filed suit against officials from Osbourn Park High School in Manassas and the local government contending she was cut from the boy's baseball team because of her gender and claimed the action violated federal law prohibiting sex discrimination at institutions receiving federal funds. A federal judge threw out the case, saying there was no evidence of sex discrimination.
Croteau received an award from the National Organization for Women for her efforts last spring.
'The only reason Julie's the first one is because it's really hard for a girl to get this far,' attorney Ray Croteau said of his daughter. 'There's plenty of talented girls who have been discouraged, demoralized and turned off. It's hard to get this far. Julie's worked hard to get here. A lot of other girls have been side-tracked.'
'Tradition dies hard in everything,' added her mother, attorney Nancy Croteau. 'Sports is one of the places where it's dying last.'
Croteau is not the first woman ever to play for a men's college team. NCAA officials say some women played on men's football and basketball teams during World War II to fill out rosters depleted by the war.
Croteau's coach and teammates said she was long ago accepted as a member of the team. While Croteau failed to get a hit, only one of her teammates did get one against Spring Garden's starting pitcher, Dave Tittlemeyer.
'She made the team on her ability,' Coach Hal Willard said. 'I think everyone who was here had to be impressed with her talent. She made contact (at the plate) today. For a freshman, regardless of whether you're male or female, the first time up in the collegiate ranks has to be big pressure.'