'Affinity for game' wins girl a 'first' High schools: Jackie Rolfes, frustrated with softball, becomes the Baltimore area's first girl to earn her way onto a varsity baseball team, at Southern-Anne Arundel.

April 12, 1997|By Pat O'Malley | Pat O'Malley,SUN STAFF

After earning a spot on the Southern of Harwood varsity baseball team, senior Jackie Rolfes was given jersey No. 8.

"It was as if it was meant to be mine. I was so excited," said Rolfes, 18, of donning the number of her hero, the Orioles' Cal Ripken.

Rolfes is being celebrated in her own right, although the attention is not quite what she wanted.

She is the first female to play varsity baseball in Anne Arundel County and the Baltimore metro area and the fourth in state history.

"Jackie has a love and affinity for the game, and the players respect her work ethic," said Southern coach Gary Gubbings. "She came out and earned it. It's been a smooth transition."

Rolfes, a 5-foot-3 second baseman with extensive fast-pitch softball experience, had never played baseball before this year but had attended her brother Tony's summer games. She's now one of his teammates. Tony is a sophomore pitcher-first baseman for Southern.

"It's pretty cool having my older sister on the team," said Tony Rolfes.

Jackie Rolfes comes from a sports-loving family. Her parents, Mary and Lee, gave up co-ed softball in Prince George's County to watch their children play.

Jackie Rolfes played for a top summer softball team called the Marylanders from ages 12 to 16. At Southern, she had played varsity softball since her freshman year and was team captain in 10th grade. But she needed a change.

"Softball wasn't what I wanted," said Rolfes, who hopes to return to the sport next year at Salisbury State and eventually become a teacher and possibly a coach. "We've had a new coach every year, and we're always rebuilding. I didn't feel as a senior that I wanted to go through that again and decided to try something new baseball.

"I like to win, and I've always loved baseball. I didn't do this for publicity. I'm just one of the players, and I appreciate the support the guys have given me. They've been so nice to me, and that has meant a lot."

An RBI in first at-bat

She has been on the Southern varsity since mid-March and has appeared in one game, a 17-1 romp over South River on April 4.

"I got an RBI in my first at-bat -- walked with the bases loaded," said Rolfes, who fouled off a pitch before walking. "I didn't know if they were going to pitch to me, or at me. I played one inning at second base, and I'm working hard in practice to get more playing time."

She has not had to work hard to be accepted by her teammates.

During infield drills Thursday, Rolfes missed a couple of ground balls. "Don't get frustrated, Jackie. Stay with it," a teammate said encouragingly. That she did, taking one hard-hit ball off her waist, picking it up and throwing it. After fielding a couple more with ease, she heard: "Aw, you're getting charity hops out there, Jackie."

"Jackie's a good infielder and puts more time into baseball than 60 percent of the guys on our team," said shortstop and co-captain Jeff Crandell.

Rolfes often stays after practice to work on her fielding, base running and hitting.

"The base running is so much different than in softball, because you can take leadoffs in baseball and the pitcher can throw over there, " said Rolfes. "I had never paid much attention to it [base running] in the past.

"As for hitting, the ball comes in about as fast as it does in softball, but I did have to change bats."

Rolfes went from using a 31-inch, 21-ounce bat in softball to a 31-26 for baseball.

She has impressed her coach with how much she wants to play.

"She hinted early on that she wanted to try out for the team, and when she went to the Jerry Wargo Southern Maryland Baseball Camp, I knew she was getting serious," said coach Gubbings.

The Wargo camp is conducted on Sundays in January and February at Northern High in Calvert County. Rolfes and a friend, Vicki Hardesty, who plays at Salisbury State, were the only females among about 250 players at the camp.

"That didn't matter, because they did well and were accepted by the guys," said Gubbings, who worked the camp.

Mary Cage of Oldtown High in Allegany County was the first state girl to play baseball, in 1983, and Jennifer Whorton of Flintstone High, in the same Western Maryland county, played last spring. Star Mackall played for the Calvert High of Calvert County varsity in 1985.

Arundel High's Becky Carlson is playing her second year of JV baseball at the Gambrills school this spring, and Katie Kayser played JV baseball at Towson High in 1988.

Carlson paved the way for Rolfes after a brief controversy last March. Carlson made the Arundel JV but was then urged by Rick Wiles, county coordinator of physical education, to try softball.

After she refused, Anne Arundel school superintendent Carol Parham ruled that Carlson had "earned the right to have a position on the team."

It's the policy of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association to encourage girls to play the comparable sport of softball, which meets federal requirements under Title IX.

Last year, MPSSAA president Ron Belinko, speaking about the Carlson case, said the state's policy is to "counsel them into softball." The idea is to expose girls to more college scholarship opportunities, which easily outnumber the opportunities for girls in baseball.

"I'm not looking for an opportunity in baseball. I'm looking for an opportunity to have fun playing baseball, and I thank Mr. Gubbings for taking me seriously from the very beginning," said Rolfes.

Pub Date: 4/12/97

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