A former women's baseball player wants to throw a fastball through sports' glass ceiling.
Sue Parsons Zipay played professional baseball at a time when it wasn't cool for women to be involved in sports.
A former member of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, which achieved new fame after becoming the subject of the movie “A League of Their Own,” Zipay had a small part in the film, playing an older version of the Beans Babbitt.
But Zipay, 82, remembers the days when she didn't tell people she was involved in sports out of fear of exclusion from social gatherings.
As a child, her athletic opportunities were limited.
"I couldn't play Little League," Zipay said. "I couldn't play on the boys baseball team. I had to play girls softball, which was horrible, because they weren't very good athletes in those days. And it wasn't the boys. They didn't care. They would have let me play and not said anything. It was just society. 'Girls don't do this, and they don't do this, and they don't do that.'”
Basketball wasn’t much better.
"In basketball, you got two bounces (to dribble the ball)," Zipay said. "And you couldn't cross the center line! The guards were over there and the forwards over here because 'it might be too strenuous for you.' Can you imagine that?"
Of course, that’s changed in a world where female athletes like Serena Williams and Abby Wambach are now household names.
Now, Zipay has a plan she hopes will immortalize the accomplishments of female athletes. She is a driving force in the launch of the Women's Sports Museum and one six members of its board of directors. The group hopes to place the future museum on Sarasota’s bayfront at the former GWIZ Museum.
There are still plenty of unknowns with the museum. An Oct. 22 kick-off gala (see sidebar) and future fundraisers will affect how the museum is built and how quickly.
The only deadline that Zipay is adamant about adhering to is opening the museum while she's still alive.
Although women were limited in terms of athletic opportunities when Zipay was a child, she had female athletes she idolized.
Take “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias, who set the hurdles world record time of 11.2 seconds at the 1932 summer Olympics and was a founding member of the LPGA Tour. Didrikson Zaharias is one of the most decorated athletes in history, but Zipay worries her legacy is at risk of being forgotten.
At an All-American Girls Professional Baseball League vision committee meeting, Zipay talked to her friends about what would happen to the league’s memorabilia once all its players are gone. That discussion sparked a conversation about opening the museum
Remembering historic figures like Didrikson Zaharias through pictures and videos will be a large part of the Women’s Sports Museum, but it won’t be the only part. The committee wants the museum to be interactive and easily updated. The goal is to have people constantly returning to play new games or see new exhibits. The attractions will not just cater to on-field happenings, but will also feature tips for starting a career on the business side of sports. It will seek to become a resource hub for all women interested entering the field.
Both Zipay and board secretary Peter Fanning say the goal is to stimulate and maintain a cultural change.
Fanning has four daughters, all of whom played sports growing up. He has seen the effect athletics can have on young girls. Male or female, sports participants learn the importance of teamwork and how to be gracious in defeat, he said.
“Sports gives people a leg up in life, I think,” Fanning said.
Sarasota County is putting a heavy emphasis on sports tourism. Recently, the Florida Sports Foundation recognized its efforts with the state sports tourism award. That's a big reason Zipay and the board have settled on the city of Sarasota as its destination, even though Zipay lives in Englewood, where she runs Englewood Tennis Club with her son, Bob Zipay.
Another reason is the picturesque bayfront setting. Board members hope families visiting the area for the view will also stop by the museum, though they believe the museum will become a popular tourist attraction in its own right.
The end goal is to make the museum as modern as possible, inside and out. Chris Gallagher, of Hoyt Architects, created a rendering for the museum. It features a sleek building enclosed by glass with rotating balls from different sports inside. Outside, there are tables and chairs where families could enjoy a meal. Gallagher said there has also been talk of creating some small athletic facilities next to the museum.
Of course, it will take a lot of money to make it happen. Gallagher said there's no set amount of money the group would have to reach. Instead, it might be best to build in small steps. Like the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, the Women's Sports Museum might have to start off in a small space to before expanding into a grand hall of its own. Gallagher said the group has been receptive to this possibility.
Asked what she wants young girls to take away from the experience of her museum once it opens, Zipay said she wants them to feel comfortable in their own skin.
“Sports and athletics are wide open for women now, and you can do anything you want,” Zipay said. “You can be anything you want. No more restrictions. No more being ostracized. Now, you can be proud.”
Tickets for the kick-off gala can be purchased at womenssportsmuseum.org.