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Mo’ne Davis chugs up a flight of stairs and into a full-court gym, where her interruption of an indoor soccer game is welcomed.

Davis’ surroundings at the Marian Anderson Recreation Center in South Philly are so familiar that she has the “A” logo tattooed on the inside of her left wrist. This is where she was first discovered, at 7 years old, throwing a tight 30-yard football spiral from the outfield grass. And to where she made the three-block walk from her aunt’s home after school, with enough cash for a slice of pizza at Lazaro’s. And where she trained as a member of the Anderson Monarchs before becoming an instant phenom when she was barely a teenager in 2014, as the first girl to pitch a shutout in the Little League World Series.

But on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, Davis is swarmed by a dozen 9- and 10-year-old girls. This program did not exist while Davis was growing up as the only girl on Monarchs teams and now does in part because of her. Steve Bandura, the Monarchs’ founder and Davis’ longtime coach and mentor, got the all-girls team off the ground during the COVID-19 pandemic. These days, Davis pops by while on breaks from Hampton University in Virginia, where she plays second base for the softball team and just completed her junior year.

“I don’t feel like it’s a responsibility that I’m like, ‘I have to do it.’ I want to do it because that’s just who I am as a person.”

Mo'ne Davis, on inspiring the next generation of young girls

Davis no longer is the 13-year-old playing with — and beating — the boys on a national stage, thanks to pinpoint command fused with impressive velocity and late movement on her fastball. She still has not fully grasped what happened on that mound nearly eight years ago or the popularity frenzy that followed. Her own journey as an athlete — and as a young adult — has shifted in the years since, but she still hopes to inspire young girls to pursue sports.

“I don’t feel like it’s a responsibility that I’m like, ‘I have to do it,’” Davis said. “I just want to do it because that’s just who I am as a person. … It is cool to see [that] what I say matters to people and could help people and can change their lives.”

Davis, who will turn 21 this month, has reminisced countless times about that night in Williamsport, when she hit 70 mph on her fastball, struck out eight Tennessee batters, and allowed just two hits in a 4-0 victory for the Taney Dragons.

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She still cannot remember the middle innings because of “how much I was zoned in,” only snapping back to reality when the umpire stopped play in the seventh because the crowd was getting rowdy. The instant fame took her to the White House to read ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas with Barack and Michelle Obama, to winning an ESPY Award for breakthrough athlete, and to meeting celebrities such as hip-hop megastar Drake. While at an event with other renowned women honored by Time magazine for “changing the world,” Davis drew one of the biggest crowds.

“My wife said, ‘Think about it, Mo. These women are like curing cancer, and you threw a ball hard,’” said Bandura, who considers Davis a daughter. “And she gets that. But I think it was a really feel-good story at a time when this country needed a feel-good story, especially in Philadelphia.

“But it was just amazing to me, the attention that that garnered, but she never wanted to be anybody but herself. … She got back to school after that and just wanted to be with her friends.”

As life resettled, Davis opted not to play baseball for her high school team at Springside Chestnut Academy. After years alongside Monarchs teammates she knew so well that she could predict each one’s on-field maneuvers, “it wasn’t the same,” and “I just wasn’t enjoying it as much” with the school team, she said. Bandura concurred that those Monarchs had a special chemistry, with Davis as the “glue” because of her cerebral style as a pitcher and point guard and low-key personality that she channeled into natural leadership.

Most close to Davis thought she would pursue college basketball, after growing up a huge fan of Maya Moore with dreams of playing for Connecticut. But she rolled her ankle in a game that several college recruiters attended and was in a walking boot for six weeks after that. The injury allowed Davis to acknowledge that she had become disenchanted with the AAU basketball circuit.

“I know she was a little reluctant and afraid that people were going to be disappointed in her,” Bandura said. “But I remember when she told me, I was thinking, ‘This is your life. You can do what you want.’”

Meanwhile, Davis’ best friend at the time had long been trying to persuade her to try softball. She finally obliged in her sophomore season.

“Inspiring the ones close to me is probably my biggest accomplishment — really.”

Mo'ne Davis

New teammates who had spent years playing travel softball were patient as Davis learned new rules, such as not being allowed to take a lead off bases. She liked how the sport’s trademark elaborate cheers allowed players to express themselves and support one another. Rather than pitching — to this day, she says her attempts to throw underhand result in the ball “rolling” to the plate instead of flying over it — she played the middle infield. She won a state championship in softball, and another in soccer, as a true multisport athlete.

“I didn’t want to feel any regrets later on in high school,” Davis said of playing softball. “So I just went out and I enjoyed it and I was having fun. It’s a memory I won’t forget. I still think that team that we had was one of the best teams that I’ve ever played on.”

Davis also continued to play baseball with the Monarchs during the summer. After the Little League World Series, her post-high school plans were shaped by a 2015 tour through the South during which the team also visited significant sites from the civil rights movement including Selma, Ala., the subject of “the most relevant movie at the time,” Davis said.

That inspired Davis to pursue playing for an HBCU — which stands for Historically Black Colleges and Universities — where she could “be around girls who looked like me, who had similar backgrounds, who I could really relate to on a deeper level.” A subtle-yet-profound example: Davis says she is not particularly skilled at doing her own hair, but she could count on teammates to fix it on Hampton’s picture day. Davis’ experience also has intrigued her younger sister, Mahogany, who now thinks she might want to go to Spelman College, an all-women’s HBCU in Atlanta.

“Inspiring the ones close to me is probably my biggest accomplishment — really,” Davis said.

Davis has faced on-field adversity during her college career. The end of Hampton’s 2020 season, like all NCAA sports playing at that time, was canceled because of the pandemic’s onset. So was the 2021 season, a decision by the school. Then Hampton changed coaches before an overdue full 2022 season.

“I’m always just saying, ‘Trust yourself. You got this,’ … I feel like I have so much more potential than what I’m showing.”

Mo'ne Davis

And although Davis does not feel like a “target” because of her recognizable name and accomplishments, she said she put unnecessary pressure on herself while batting .219 with 16 RBIs and 24 runs in 49 games (all starts) for a Hampton team that went 19-36. She already is eager for the start of her senior season after becoming more versed in positive self-talk and being encouraged to embrace a stronger leadership role.

“I’m always just saying, ‘Trust yourself. You got this,’” Davis said. “… I just need to tap into a different part of me that can pull that full potential out. [Because] I feel like I have so much more potential than what I’m showing.”

Davis is studying communications at Hampton with a goal to become a television commentator. She currently is interning at MLB Network, where she primarily edits short-form video clips while learning about other behind-the-scenes jobs. She could follow a similar path as Jessica Mendoza, a present-day pioneer who transitioned from playing softball to analyzing baseball for ESPN. Davis chatted with Mendoza and shadowed the production crew while participating in the “KidsCast” at last year’s Little League World Series.

“Since I was a player, [I want to convey] what I might think of in this scenario on the field, what might be going through my head,” Davis said. “I’m just excited to see more women break into that field. Soon, hopefully it’ll be me that breaks into it, as well. And I just want to get more girls involved in it.”

Davis was born nearly 30 years after Title IX passed in 1972, meaning she cannot envision a world in which she was unable to play sports. Some could view her teenage baseball stardom, and subsequent switch to softball, as an example of how far society has progressed and how far it still needs to go.

She says “go for it” to any school or league that wants to start an all-girls team for baseball or any sport traditionally reserved for boys. But she also encourages girls to relish the satisfaction of seizing a spot on a boys team. Access to a variety of sports, Davis said, is what’s most important to building the next generation of female athletes.

“Just giving those girls an opportunity and an outlet to be themselves,” Davis said.

Davis now sees that firsthand with the kids she met inside that upstairs gym.

Bandura had long recognized the need for a team for inner-city girls in Philly, but finally put a plan in motion just before the pandemic shut down society. He partners with local schools to host field days, then sends a note home to the families of children in whom he identifies potential. He now has one team of 16 girls who are 9 and 10, one team of 17 first-graders, and another 12 first-graders who took home a letter earlier this week.

“I always thought there are more Mo’nes out there in the city. They just never get a chance.”

Steve Bandura, Anderson Monarchs

Bandura’s goal is to build the best girls’ program in the country. And he views Davis as the ideal mentor because of her success, demeanor, and relatability as a young woman from the area who has “defied all the odds.”

“I always thought there are more Mo’nes out there in the city,” Bandura said. “They just never get a chance. I always say, ‘How many Beethovens never got a chance to sit at a piano and realize their talent?’

“I want to show what can be done, and all because of Mo. That really showed me what can be done if girls are given the opportunity. … Twelve years from now, all those girls will be going to college and hopefully playing in college as well.”

After soccer on that Saturday morning, Bandura rolled out a rack of basketballs. Davis playfully screamed, “That’s a foul!” while being ambushed, before dribbling to the right corner and burying a turnaround jumper. She spoke calmly while gently taking players by the shoulders to direct them to where they should be on an inbounds play. Bandura looked on from the sideline with pride, highlighting a girl who initially “didn’t even want to play,” but on this day, broke into a dance move after making a layup.

“They were a little shy at first,” Davis said of the group. “But once they open up, it’s so much fun. And when they learn something that they couldn’t do, and just seeing the smiles on their face, it just makes me happy. … Their whole face lights up. That’s always the best moment is just seeing when little kids can figure something out and do it for the first time.”

Added Bandura: “The kids are just really drawn to her, and she realizes that. … She obviously knows more than I do about what girls react to. I’m learning now because it’s different [than with boys].”

“I’m not saying Mo’ne is Jackie Robinson. But for our girls, she is.”

Steve Bandura, Anderson Monarchs

After practice, the girls piled into the bleachers to surround Davis for selfies. She then descended back down the stairs, through a hallway lined with multiple pictures of her team in Williamsport and into the batting cages. Off in the distance, one girl threw a baseball overhand at a pitching net, with noticeable pop for her small size.

Outside, Davis pointed out a collection of placards that populate the chain link backstop behind the baseball field’s home plate. They recognize Monarchs alumni who went on to play college ball and graduate.

None of the names belong to a girl. Which means Davis is on track to become the first — again.

“She’s the gold standard,” Bandura said. “For the boys, we’ve always used Jackie Robinson as that role model, that barrier-breaker. I’m not saying Mo’ne is Jackie Robinson. But for our girls, she is.”

Staff contributors
Reporting: Gina Mizell
Editing: DeAntae Prince
Digital: Matt Mullin
Multimedia: Astrid Rodrigues
Copy editing: Jim Swan
Photo editing: Rachel Molenda
Project editor: Gary Potosky