When a girl asked to play in a sandlot game 70 years ago, no one wanted her on his team. That changed when they saw her play, teaching a group of young boys a lesson in equality.
What a magical phrase. It conjures up so many memories of a game that brings together kids of all sizes, ages, abilities and sexes. Yes, sexes.
I can still remember the flight of the ball over my head while I scurried backward to retrieve the scuffed-up baseball we were using that day. The ball had been hit by a girl that we reluctantly let play when we chose up sides.
She was about three years older than the rest of us. We were mostly 11 or 12 in the summer of 1946. The war had ended (I still remember the Nazi SS knife that my friend Jackie’s older brother had taken off a German soldier) and we were doing what boys all over America were doing that summer — playing a pick-up game of baseball.
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But on this particular day a girl named Margaret Dobson had asked if she could play.
As I recall she hit a homer every at bat that day, and they were hit high and long and very far over our heads. She was an absolute phenom at the plate and in the field.
We were no slouches at this wonderful game. My brother, two years older than me, had recently attended a baseball clinic in Vancouver, Wash., that was run by a couple of players from the New York Yankees. He won contests for throwing accuracy and speed on the bases against about 150 other local wannabes.
No one, including my brother, matched Margaret that day, or the subsequent days when we got together to play. Suddenly, everyone wanted Margaret on their side.
Every boy who played baseball with Margaret that summer came away with an awareness that girls are every bit as competitive as boys. We were kids playing sandlot baseball, so we never talked about it. But there is no question that knowing her, and the skill with which she played, made me respect girls more.
I never saw Margaret again after that summer, but I read about her a few years later in the Sports pages. As an 18-year-old, she played for the Erv Lind Florists softball team. If you grew up in the Northwest in those days you know that Lind Florists was the top woman’s softball team on the West Coast. She played in the national tournament and hit over .600!
But all of this was surpassed when she enrolled at the college that later became known as Portland State. Vanport College, a two-year school created after the war for the flood of veterans, had no softball team, so Margaret went out for the men’s baseball team. She not only lettered and was a starter at third base, but she batted clean-up!
What is my claim to fame in baseball? Well, I lettered in baseball in high school, and in college, but my highlight was playing some pick-up games with Margaret Dobson.
Unfortunately, Margaret died in 2012 after many years as an administrator at Portland State University. The top female athlete at Portland State annually receives the Margaret Dobson Award.
Young ladies, I only hope you know what an honor you have received. I played baseball with Margaret Dobson, and it was the highlight of my baseball career!
Dr. Margaret J. “Mugsy” Dobson was a five-time softball All-American, earned three ASA national championships with Irv Lind Florists, and set a national-tournament record in 1950 with a .615 batting average. She enrolled at Vanport College, now Portland State University, and earned a varsity letter in baseball, which was mentioned in Time magazine. She was inducted into the Portland Metropolitan Softball Hall of Fame, Oregon Sports Hall of Fame and the ASA National Softball Hall of Fame. Sports Illustrated named her one of Oregon’s 50 Greatest Sports Figures. She later earned a physical education degree from the University of Oregon and became an educator committed to fitness for all children.
Some credit her doctoral thesis at Wisconsin for inspiring the development of fitness tests for all American school children. She also co-authored the book “Softball for Girls” in 1976 and became an advocate for teaching sports to special-needs children, a movement that led to the Special Olympics. Dr. Dobson retired as an administrator at Portland State in 1990 as an executive vice president. Since 1976, Portland State has given the Margaret J. Dobson Award to its outstanding female athlete.
Don Rogers, 82, lives on Camano Island, where he retired in 1990. He grew up in Vancouver, Wash., during World War II, went to high school in Napa, California, and played baseball at Napa Community College. The San Francisco State graduate is a former social-science teacher and can be found playing golf a couple of days a week at Kayak Golf Course in Stanwood.
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