Janiya Victor was playing shortstop for her Little League team at the Christy Recreation Center in Cobbs Creek a few years ago when Bartram High School assistant baseball coach Harold Alexander spotted her.
Victor stood out in the crowd on the field, and it wasn’t just because she was a girl playing on a boys’ team. She was a girl schooling the guys.
“It was regular for me playing last year [with the Bartram boys] because I played baseball before with all boys," the 5-foot-9 Victor said of her first at-bat with the Braves. “I didn’t feel any different.”
A sophomore this season, Victor last year was the only girl to play on a Philadelphia high school baseball team when she played for Bartram. Less than 1 percent — .36 percent or 1,762 players — of high school baseball players nationwide last season were girls, according to the 2017-2018 National Federation of High School Sports Participation Survey, and Victor was the only girl recorded in Pennsylvania.
Alexander ran into Victor again two years ago, and this time he asked her to come out for Bartram’s baseball team. At first, Bartram head coach James Ockimey was resistant to the idea and wondered if Victor could play at the high school level. He now has no doubt.
“She got out there, and I moved him to second base so quick your head will spin," Ockimey said, referring to a senior who had played shortstop before Victor arrived. Ockimey added that Victor, who attends and plays girls’ basketball for Motivation High School, was one of the top two players on the team last year.
Set to be a junior in the next school year, Victor is a back-to-back recipient of all-Public League honors in both baseball and girls’ basketball. She has played on boys’ baseball teams since she was 5. She said she started playing softball a few years ago but favors baseball because it’s more challenging.
During her first at-bat last year, Ockimey was not only impressed, but he was also speechless. Now, she bats second in the Braves’ order.
“She hit a line drive,” Ockimey said of that first at-bat. "She had an impact swing. I was like, ‘Wow.’ I was in awe. She hit a line drive.”
The friendly smiles and family-style environment at the team’s cookouts throughout the season have helped Victor create a healthy camaraderie with her teammates. Being the only girl on the team hasn’t affected her much, Ockimey said, and many of the other players consider her like a sister.
“I feel close to everybody on the team. I can’t explain it,” Victor said.
Last month, Philadelphia City Council passed Resolution No. 190474 to recognize Victor’s achievements.
In part, the document read: "WHEREAS, Janiya hopes to continue her career in baseball, softball, or basketball at UCLA after graduating from high school. Her ultimate goal is to play baseball in the major leagues or to earn a spot in the WNBA. Young women like Janiya are making strides in gendered sports to foster inclusivity and opportunity for equal competition; now, therefore, be it
“RESOLVED, BY THE COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, That we hereby congratulate Janiya Victor on her achievement as the first and only girl to play for a Philadelphia high school boys baseball team.”
Shortly before Victor’s father, Auguste, moved the family from Philadelphia to St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, in 2008, he introduced Janiya and her older brother, Najer, to baseball. Both instantly gravitated to the sport, so the elder Victor enrolled them in the Latin League.
“When they were small, it was almost like a competition because when he played she wanted to play, too,” Auguste Victor said. “Janiya has been all over the place playing ball.”
While playing in the Caribbean for eight years, Victor shuffled through every position on the field, facing some of the top teams in the Caribbean and Central America. She credits her brother for honing her technique and fostering her passion for playing shortstop. The family returned to Philadelphia in 2016.
When it came to where Ockimey would put Victor in his infield at Bartram, the decision got tougher -- and better -- the longer she played. She was indeed the answer for Bartram at shortstop. But Victor also has excellent pitching mechanics. In the end, Ockimey decided to focus Victor on shortstop so she would not have to juggle positions.
Last year, Victor had 33 hits, 20 runs, 6 doubles, and 2 triples. She appeared in just five of the Beavers’ 10 games this season because her basketball season was longer this year. She ended with 19 at-bats, 13 hits and 8 runs. Her batting average was .684.
“Her fundamentals are sound,” Ockimey said. “There’s not too much I had to show her about high school pitching except for mechanics and being mindful of the runner. Everything else is in tact. As she develops strength-wise, she is going to be phenomenal.”
With more than half of Bartram’s team graduating this year, Ockimey said he will need Victor’s leadership next year to match her on-the-field success.