- Associated Press - Saturday, April 9, 2016

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) - When Kat Williams was growing up in a working-class family in Louisville, Kentucky, she didn’t always get it right. Her clothes weren’t right. The character on her lunchbox wasn’t right. And, struggling through school with undiagnosed dyslexia, her schoolwork certainly wasn’t right.

But there was one place where she was always spot-on: At shortstop on the baseball diamond.

“The only place in the whole world where I felt confident was at shortstop,” said Williams, a women’s history professor at Marshall University. “I was good. I knew I was good. I played with the boys and was often the person choosing the teams. They would look to me. That was the place for me, and it was a savior. It kept me moving forward.”

That confidence that Williams came to understand some 50 years ago playing baseball in the streets was what made her think maybe she should try college, even if she did struggle in school, and maybe she could become a teacher to help young people with challenges of their own.

Williams thinks the confidence learned through sports - particularly women in sports, who have long been overshadowed by their male counterparts - is something to celebrate.

And she’s just wrapped up 10 years of research and writing to celebrate those achievements in a book which will be published later this year by McFarland Publishing.

Titled “Life After the League,” the book focuses on women who played in the All American Girls Professional Baseball League - how life brought them to the league, which started in 1943, and how their lives unfolded after the league ended in 1954.

The league, which was highlighted in the movie “A League of Their Own,” was intended to keep baseball alive and keep stadiums from going broke during World War II. But it did so much more for the women involved. The moral of the story, Williams said, is essentially that sports can create enormous opportunities for people.

“People might think, ‘Eh, it’s only sports.’ But the whole point of the book is what sports can do for us,” Williams said. “The women who played in that league are the perfect example. Those women came from poverty. They grew up during the Depression, and many came from small towns and farms … and had worked for pennies. Then they were offered an opportunity to play professional baseball and make anywhere from $65 to $85 a week - plus they got $5 for food. That was a lot more money than most of their fathers made.”

They got to see new places. They got to feel the same kind of confidence that men in the sport had understood for decades. Many of the women went on to become professionals, including doctors, lawyers and educators, and some put their siblings through school, she said. For one Cuban teenager - whom Williams is writing about in a second book - it opened the door to U.S. citizenship followed by a successful career in business.

All because of baseball.

Williams got into writing the book after becoming actively involved in the All American Girls Professional Baseball League Players Association.

“Only former players are members, (and the) rest of us are associate members,” she said. She attended reunions and got to know the players, serving as president for a year. She interviewed probably 30 former players as part of her research. Williams now serves as president of the International Women’s Baseball Center, which is in the process of acquiring two buildings in Rockford, Illinois, home of the Rockford Peaches. The facilities will become a women’s baseball museum, an educational and training center, and a research center focused on all of girls and women’s baseball, internationally.

“The United States is woefully behind in women’s baseball,” Williams said. “Most other countries have professional women’s baseball. Vietnam has a women’s baseball team. We do not. International women’s baseball is very big. It’s very popular.”

Her hope is to increase opportunities for girls and women to play baseball in the United States. Softball is a great game, Williams said, but it’s truly a different game than baseball, and she thinks girls and women should have the opportunity to choose - and not just whether or not to play baseball with boys, but to play in girls and women’s leagues.

The IWBC is hosting a girls and women’s baseball tournament in June in Reading, Pennsylvania, that will provide a chance for girls and women to come from all over and compete. Teams that are already organized in the United States and teams from Canada and possibly Australia will be there as well.

The day before the tournament will be a summit to discuss how to make girls and women’s baseball a nationwide thing.

Advocating for girls and women’s baseball is, however, just one of many causes that Williams has stood behind. She’s a busy woman, currently serving as chairwoman of Mayor Steve Williams’ LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender) Advisory Committee and being part of Huntington’s Open to All campaign, to promote an inclusive environment in the city. In the past, she was appointed by then-Gov. Joe Manchin to chair of the state Women’s Commission, which intended to highlight resources and promote equality for women. She also is past director of Women’s Studies at Marshall.

As for her teaching, she was recently videoed to be featured on CSPAN’s “Lectures in American History.”

All that she’s been able to do has been because of the supportive environment in Marshall’s history department, Williams said.


Information from: The Herald-Dispatch, https://www.herald-dispatch.com

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