Student researches women in baseball

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When it comes to baseball, statistical information is a major part of the game. Whether it’s the number of home runs hit or bases stolen, these numbers are presented to the public through sports news and articles. With her presentation at the Society for American Baseball Research Conference last June, however, AJ Richards examined some of the social and cultural aspects of the sport that people may not think about.

Richards, a graduate student in leisure, youth & human services, heard about the San Diego conference from UNI faculty. She completed an online application and was also able to receive financial assistance from the provost to fund her trip for the presentation.

The title of her presentation was “Going, Going, Gone! Reasons Girls Ceased Participation in Baseball.” Richard said the topic of her presentation shifted over time.

“That’s what it started out as for my master’s thesis,” Richards said. “Initially, I was going to research the reasons why girls quit baseball, with baseball being a male-dominated sport. Through taking classes, I kind of changed. I found that I couldn’t possibly anticipate all of the different reasons that a girl might quit baseball. I felt like it would be more empowering to the participants if I asked them more open-ended questions and just gave them a chance to tell me their story.”

By asking them these questions, Richards was able to get a feel for the themes and baseball-playing experiences of girls.

She was fascinated by some of the other presentation subjects which were similar to her own, including tomboyism and 19th century girls and women in baseball. On a similar note, there was a segment presented by Major League Baseball where they talked about diversity and inclusion along with what they are doing to improve in these areas.

While Richards was able to use the event as a networking opportunity, she also got the chance to meet women in the baseball world that she looks up to during a “Women in Baseball” panel. This group included Los Angeles Dodgers Vice President Janet Marie Smith and an umpire named Perry Barber.

Since she was presenting in front of people that she looked up to, Richards had a few challenges while preparing for her speech.

“I really didn’t know how it would be received,” she said. “I didn’t really know exactly what my audience would be. Before that, I happened to talk to a woman that presented there last year. She told me that she was intimidated at first because it was essentially a room of older white guys. She didn’t think that they would be very receptive to what she was saying. She told me that I shouldn’t worry about it because they’ll love it and be very interested. She was right.”

Overall, Richards believes that her experience at the conference tied into and enhanced her education at UNI. By going to the conference, she was able to have several social interactions and talk to faculty members who have been doing research on baseball for decades.

“The faculty in leisure, youth & human services have been incredibly supportive and helpful in helping me to learn about the conference,” Richards said. “The faculty are the main reason that I went to UNI. They have a commitment to students and helping them learn. I think that my department is one of the best-kept secrets at UNI. I wish that more people knew about it.”