Maria Pepe Enshrined into the Little League® Hall of Excellence

Over the course of the past 50 years, there have been countless girls and women who have led in the movement to help bring opportunities to females within the Little League® program, but one young girl from Hoboken, New Jersey, truly was a pioneer in bringing a change the world would remember forever.

Born in 1960, Maria Pepe grew up like many girls continue to do today, loving the game of baseball. As a 12-year-old in 1972, she joined her friends and went out to pitch three games for her local Little League Baseball® team in Hoboken, New Jersey, enjoying the fun and teamwork that came with the Little League experience.

Unfortunately, after those first three games, she was quickly informed that she could not play on the team any longer or the league would lose their affiliation with the governing body – Little League Baseball, Incorporated.

“My coach came to me and told me that Little League said they had to take me off the team or the league would lose its charter,” said Ms. Pepe. “I didn’t want to make a hundred kids mad at me, so I had to step down.”

With her league located just across the river from New York City, her removal from the team quickly drew media attention and eventually the National Organization for Women (NOW), leading to a call from the organization to her family asking if they would be able to represent Ms. Pepe in a lawsuit against the Little League organization.

With Title IX established in 1972 and advocates throughout sports fighting for opportunities for girls and women, Ms. Pepe’s case against Little League continued through the court system, receiving increasing coverage by the media and a source of debate throughout the Little League program. However, in 1973, Judge Sylvia Pressler decided in favor of Ms. Pepe, writing: “The institution of Little League is as American as the hot dog and apple pie. There is no reason why that part of Americana should be withheld from girls.” The following year, the ruling was upheld by the New Jersey Superior Court, eventually forcing the amendment of the original Little League Federal Charter to remove the gender clause and permit girls into the program.

While unfortunately the decision came after Ms. Pepe had already aged out of the Little League program, it became the pivotal moment that officially permitted girls to play in the Little League Baseball program as well as the spark to launch the Little League Softball® program, which celebrates its 50th Anniversary in 2024. Today, Ms. Pepe’s monumental case and the work of those that she has inspired has helped lead Little League’s continued strategic efforts to encourage and empower the girls and women within its program, with an ultimate goal of providing equal participation opportunities for girls by 2032.

One of the original Girls with Game®, Ms. Pepe was not only instrumental in starting the movement that led to an organizational change allowing girls to play Little League Baseball but continues to serve as an inspiration to thousands around the world each year out of her childhood hometown in Hoboken. She remains active in promoting opportunities for female athletes, especially at the youngest levels of baseball. Ms. Pepe went on to play collegiate softball, and continues her accomplished professional career in finance, working for the City of Hoboken. Thanks to the perseverance that Ms. Pepe showed over the past 50 years, girls from all around the world continue to shine on their community’s Little League Baseball field each year and has resulted in a total of 22 individuals who have gone on to compete at the highest stage in the Little League Baseball World Series, including in each of the last four events.

To honor her legacy, Little League International has officially enshrined her into the Hall of Excellence, the highest honor the organization can bestow, making her the eighth woman to earn the honor. The enshrinement ceremony took place on Saturday, June 8, during the welcome ceremony of the 2024 Maria Pepe Little League Baseball Legacy Series, the first-ever all-female baseball event held at Howard J. Lamade Stadium, named in Maria’s honor.

“Maria humbly shies away from the pioneer label and has been a wonderful friend and supporter of the Little League program over the years, even after having her dream of playing baseball with her friends in Hoboken was taken away from her,” said Stephen D. Keener, Little League President and CEO. “Her strong character and what she represents make her highly qualified for the Little League Hall of Excellence and it’s a great honor for all of us in the Little League program that she has accepted this distinguished recognition.”

To learn more about Ms. Pepe’s experience and the lasting impact she has had on the Little League program, be sure to check out the exhibit on display within the World of Little League® Museum. Today, her legacy is also on display in her own hometown, including a mural honoring her with fellow Hoboken-natives, as well as a set of batting cages dedicated in her honor at the Hoboken Little League complex.

About the Little League® Hall of Excellence

Established in 1988, enshrinement into the Little League® Hall of Excellence is conducted annually for a Little League graduate (or graduates) who have demonstrated a commitment to excellence in their chosen profession and exemplify the values learned as children in Little League. Enshrinement into the Little League Hall of Excellence is the highest honor that Little League can bestow.

Located in the sixth inning of the World of Little League® Museum, multiple exhibits display the tremendous accomplishments that these Hall of Excellence enshrinees have achieved as well as never before seen artifacts and displays from these iconic Little Leaguers®.