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Wellesley 6th grader's op-ed lands her next to Gloria Steinem, political bigwigs

Posted by Jaclyn Reiss  October 8, 2013 05:25 PM

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They say that well-behaved women seldom make history; Wellesley's Emily Willrich can vouch for that.

After Willrich, 11, wrote a spunky widely-read op-ed in the Wellesley Townsman about how the girls' softball teams play on dingier fields than the boys' baseball teams, she was invited to meet activist Gloria Steinem and other female political big-wigs at a Simmons College event celebrating women in politics Monday night.

The 11-year-old Wellesley resident said she loved meeting Steinem, especially after watching a documentary about her work advocating women's rights.

"She asked me to give a copy of my Townsman letter to her," Willrich said over the phone today. "She also said that it's good that I stuck up for myself, and said that no one else is the boss of me. I really liked that -- I love that motto."

The sixth-grader's mom, Wendy, mentioned that a Simmons College trustee, Kathy LaPoint, told the pair that she kept a copy of the editorial on her desk. That led LaPoint to ask the college's president, Helen Drinan, to invite the Wellesley native to the "How Women Become Political" event in Boston last night.

"Helen told Emily last night that her op-ed had gone viral at Simmons, and that all the students were reading it," the Wellesley mom said.

Willrich, then a fifth-grader, wrote the op-ed last spring after she was fed up with the girl's softball team having to play on a no-frills field at Hunnewell, especially when the boy's baseball teams play on the recently-renovated Reidy Field, which comes complete with dugouts, a high-tech scoreboard, a game announcer, and better-maintained grounds.

The last straw was drawn when the girl's team had to cancel a game because the field's lights wouldn't work and the umpire failed to show up.

"I finally decided that I couldn't take this anymore. It isn't fair," Willrich wrote in her May 3 editorial. She said that league officials shouldn't expect "all softball players in Wellesley to accept this unequal treatment."

However, despite the fiercely positive reactions Willrich said she received to her editorial, the girl's softball teams have yet to see any change five months later.

"Unfortunately, everything has just stayed the same," Willrich said today. "The softball season hasn’t started yet, so I hope things will change by then."

Willrich said that she thinks the league should add a scoreboard and an announcer to softball games, using money that the girls have raised alongside the boys from events like a pancake breakfast.

"I think that’s reasonable, because we raised money from the breakfast too, but they're spending all the money on the boys and not as much on us," she said.

Representatives of the Wellesley Little League and Girls' Softball organization, which oversees all of the teams, could not immediately be reached.

Wellesley town officials say that girls having to use the shabbier field is a byproduct of needing different facility specifications like a flat pitcher's mound, which differs from baseball's raised mound.

"They're two different types of fields," said Tom Harrington, a Wellesley recreation commissioner and a member of Wellesley's Playing Fields Task Force.

He said that Reidy Field, which was built for baseball, happened to be renovated less than a decade ago with privately-raised funds, which was a masterful undertaking at the time.

However, he said that the task force is not aware of any fundraising efforts for any softball fields at this time.

"Because the town has so many other needs, much of the work we do now is with funds raised privately, so we don’t really have any town money to fix any fields right now," Harrington said. "But we are certainly always looking at them and trying to figure out ways to get them fixed."

Meanwhile, Willrich said she hopes the town can help in other morale-boosting ways -- for example, scheduling the girls' teams to play games during the Wellesley Wonderful Weekend events, just as the boys do.

"Everyone makes a big production out of the boys' all-star game" during the town event, she said. "I think they should have the girls do it the day after. Right now, we just have our all-star game this random weekend, and no one makes a big deal out of it."


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Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at jaclyn.reiss@globe.com

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