PULLMAN — A Far South Side softball team is raising money to build a new generation of Black and Brown girl softball players.
India Steward started Teflon Softball about a year ago as a Pullman-based travel softball organization for Black and Brown girls. She wanted to provide a place for players to feel comfortable and not tokenized, she said.
Now, Teflon Softball’s young players are preparing for their first season, and Steward is fundraising to ensure it’s a success. Steward started a GoFundMe campaign to raise $20,000 to cover tournament fees, uniforms, practice facilities, an all-Black coaching staff, travel and hotel fees, plus other costs.
Donors have given $3,000.
“I wish all kids could just play and things wouldn’t have to be about [money], but it’s not the world that we live in,” Steward said. “A lot of other programs, they’re coming from wealthier areas, so they don’t necessarily have to fundraise. We do.
“We have to make sure that we can provide for our girls or they will miss out on a lot of opportunities.”
Steward has used the summer for tryouts and training sessions. Their teams are part of a 14-and-younger league and an 18-and-younger league with about 15 players each.
“As a former player and current coach, I noticed a huge discrepancy within our game,” Steward wrote in her GoFundMe campaign. “I believe it is crucial for young girls to have role models who look like them and to have someone who has been through what they are currently going through. Someone who can relate to their insecurities and the pressures of having to be a strong Black woman.”
Starting in September, the team will play in softball tournaments. They’ll train during the winter and spring with the goal of competing in national championships in the summer.
Teflon Softball practices at the Pullman Community Center, 10355 S. Woodlawn Ave., not too far from where Steward used to play baseball for Roseland Little League as a kid.
The center, which has three indoor turf baseball fields and regularly hosts baseball and softball events, stood out to Steward as a good home for her team, and not just because she already knew the neighborhood. In Steward’s experience, similar facilities were usually found in Chicago’s suburbs, not the city itself or its majority-Black areas, she said.
Basing Teflon Softball in Pullman created a chance to curate a full of team of Black and Brown girls, many of whom are from Pullman, Roseland and other parts Chicago area, Steward said.
It’s important for Teflon Softball to make softball a more diverse sport since majority-Black and -Brown teams aren’t the norm, and nonwhite athletes often struggle to find their footing in less diverse teams where they grapple with racism and hostility, Steward said.
Some teams “gatekeep the sport based on price,” Steward said. “They make it where a certain group of people can’t afford to be in it, and it takes out a whole class of kids and now a whole class of kids miss out on opportunities.”
Steward, who also works as an athletic coach at Stevenson High School in suburban Lincolnshire and has coached softball for various teams over the past five years, said she often felt like an outcast when she was one of the only Black players on other teams or she was given lower management positions on teams despite being overqualified.
Now, Steward is trying to prepare her team for different but similar experiences, she said.
“I told the girls, ‘We’re gonna look like Tiger Woods on a Sunday, and that means you’re gonna have to perform,’ and I think it’s important for them to hear stuff like this,” Steward said. “Sometimes, they need somebody to sit them down and say, ‘Look, it might not be fair sometimes, but you’re gonna have to be twice as good.’ That’s just the sport that we’re in.”
Teflon Softball and its players are diversifying softball and challenging notions around what sports are acceptable for Black athletes to play, Steward said.
“If we can change that stigma that Black people don’t really play softball, it could change at the coaching level, in the college coaches level, the travel ball level — it could change a lot,” Steward said. “So I’m hoping that our program can just inspire other programs to start opening up.
“Because if some of these girls see a Black woman lead a program, it can help them say, ‘All right, I saw Coach India doing it, so maybe I can come back and do it, too.’”
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