The group of eight to 10-year-olds were the first Delaware Valley Youth Athletic Association to play at the state level.
Before every first pitch, a tight-knit team of young girls frolics toward softball fields, forming a dance circle where the dozen or so players showcase a snippet of their signature moves.
This medley of personalities — all from Whitman and Pennsport — has recently led to the first state-level competition for a Delaware Valley Youth Athletic Association team since its inception in 1953.
While the organization hosts athletes through adolescence, the landmark group, is, in fact, the newly-formed 10U Little League softball team. In July, the squad of 8- to 10-year-old South Philly residents finished fourth in the Pennsylvania 10U Little League state championship. Earlier this summer, they were District 19 and Section 8 winners, as well.
“I think it all goes back to — they’re all friends outside of softball,” said Ken Bergmann, head coach the 10U team and a board member at DVYAA. “They all realize that this was just a one time thing, and they just had fun with it.”
For several years, Bergmann said parents noticed a need for softball in South Philly, leading to DVYAA’s implementation of the all-girls Little League teams a few years ago. DVYAA partnered with Edward O’Malley Athletic Association, which runs the in-house operation of teams, to form the program, including 10U, 12U and 14U softball.
In mid-spring, Bergmann began putting together the Little League bunch, as several of the girls also play on travel teams and in-house teams across the area. While this was the first time this particular lineup played together, something sparked as they started practices.
“I think, as a group, they’ve grown just supporting each other,” he said. “At first, maybe, being a little shy and then their personalities sort of take over. … They really picked up on their strengths and then they supported their strengths, especially 13 10-year-old girls — there was not a lot of bickering.”
Tuning into one another’s strengths could explain a series of outstanding plays during the season, including, during sectional championships in Bristol, Pa., when the team was down four girls and the winning catch was made by 9-year-old Brooklyn Balilonis — one of the youngest players on the team.
“(The catch) was a little bit scary,” she said. “I was going to catch it (upper hand) but then, I noticed (the ball) was down more, so then I had to go down. … I had confidence in myself.”
Or, during states in Dickson City, Pa., when the girls faced highly ranked Avon Grove of Chester County, DV performed, for the first time, a triple play when the bases were loaded.
Although they never performed an impressive move like that prior, the girls relied on their intuition with one another as the play unfolded across the infield.
“I saw the ball coming right to me,” said Caitlyn Coghlan, who caught the line drive. “I didn’t have to move back or front — it just came right to me. And then, as soon as I caught it, I noticed the girl on second was running to third. … I felt like we were all behind each other, and we all knew what to do.”
In the very next inning, the girls scored four runs, clinching a 4–0 win.
“(The opposing team) kept moving in, so I hit away and it went over their heads,” said Darby Myers, whose fused left elbow, a condition she was born with, never discouraged her from hitting ground balls during the game — or any game. “Hitting is contagious, so when someone gets a hit, you just hit.”
When the girls fell under pressure during the game, that contagious nature ran through all their veins, as slowly but surely, they came back to win the game that kept them in contention in the state tournament.
The day prior, they were placed in the losers bracket after being defeated by St. Mary’s from Northeastern Pennsylvania during a rain-delayed game that didn’t conclude until past midnight.
“I loved that me and my whole team — we all worked together as a team, and I came back from that slump, and I hit the ball,” said Madelyn Bergmann. “And I knew I was there for my team, and I was out of that slump.”
“Sometimes, when the pitchers, if they had their heads down, and are having a hard time, all of us will go in the circle and talk to them,” added Hanna Trepts.
The girls agree their friendship off the field spills into their performance on the field, as, aside from living within a few-block radius, they all attend Performing Arts Charter School, Christopher Columbus Charter School, St Monica Roman Catholic School and St. Mary Interparochial School.
With a final score of 5–4, DV lost to the St. Mary’s softball team for a second time, placing it fourth in the state. But for the coaches, the girls’ continual respect for other teams, and of course, one another was the true accomplishment.
Bergmann says, while traveling during the tournaments, several parents from around the state noted the genuineness of the girls, admiring how they lift up each other and dispelled any stigmas about South Philly behavior.
“And to be honest, that’s what I’m more proud of than anything,” he said. “The softball was great but I think the experience of all being together is really what made it.”
Note: DVYAA is seeking new all-girls sports teams, including field hockey and soccer. If interested in starting a league, please contact Ken Bergmann at (215)-520–6028.