‘Gal’ banned from 1952 New Era Tournament has happy ending as tennis standout

HANNAH RIDEN
Sports Writer

The year was 1952. Harry Truman was in his final full year as president, “The Today Show” debuted on NBC and, despite the war in Korea, America was prospering again.

Although there were many advancements in science, technology, society and the economy, one particular Lancaster girl felt the brunt of the antiquated norms of society when she decided she wanted to play baseball.

Sheila Weinstock (then Sheila Allison) was 11 years old when she found out she would not be allowed to play in the midget-midget division of the New Era Tournament (now the LNP Tournament).

“I was what they call a jock when I was a kid,” Weinstock, now 76, said recently with a laugh. “The local team used to practice across from where I lived, so I would go over and watch and eventually practiced with them.”

Weinstock, who grew up in the School District of Lancaster, had a strong arm and hit better than several of the boys on the team. So, she didn’t find it odd when she was offered a spot on the Local 285 midget-midget squad.

That year, the team qualified for the New Era Tournament, and Weinstock was ecstatic.

That was until she saw the newspaper on June 25 — the evening she was supposed to receive her uniform.

The New Era headline (headlines were much longer back then) read “Gal Tried to Get into Midgets, Too, but Officials Afraid Boys Will Think They’re Playing ‘Sissy’ Game.”

‘The boys will be objecting’

Leon Duckworth, tournament commissioner, issued a statement on the decision to exclude 11-year-old Sheila. Here’s an excerpt:

“We don’t want the gals to feel that we’re prejudiced against them, but we’re afraid that if we allow any gal to enter, there’ll be more and the next thing you know the boys will be objecting. …

“We feel that since the prime purpose of the tournament was to interest the boys we don’t want to do anything that would detract anything from this interest. Older fellows in baseball may accept the girls, but with the youngsters, we’re afraid that if we were to admit them the boys would think they’re playing a sissy game and that would be bad.”

Heartbroken ‘gal’ turns to tennis

In a world before Title IX, the commission’s decision was considered rational.

However, at such a young age, Weinstock did not understand the implications of this decision. She just wanted to play a sport she loved. She was heartbroken.

But, being the natural athlete she was, Weinstock did not let this discourage her. Later, while in the ninth grade at McCaskey, she recruited her friend from England to teach her tennis.

“I had no experience with tennis,” she said. “My parents never thought to sign me up for tennis lessons because you only really played if you belonged to a country club, but I figured it was the only sport girls could play at the time.”

The majority of Weinstock’s training took place against a wall at her own home; she marked the height of the net to track her progress. Thus began her love for tennis, a sport that has taken her across the world.

Weinstock attended Penn State, where she majored in physical education with a minor in biology. During her time at Penn State, the school did not offer any varsity sports for women.

She continued her education by receiving a masters in secondary school guidance at Columbia University before teaching physical education for three years in the West Chester County, New York, area.

Achievements in tennis

Weinstock now lives in Framingham, Massachusetts, with her husband, Norman Weinstock. They have two sons, Mark and David.

Sheila Weinstock began playing and teaching simultaneously at the Longfellow Tennis Club in Natick, Massachusetts, in 1975. She has also been the program director, assistant manager and now, currently, the manager – a position she has held for 32 years.

Although she began her tennis career as a recreational player, her competitive spirit drove her to try USTA-sanctioned tournaments in the New England area.

“One of the women I was playing with suggested we try some sanctioned tournaments as doubles,” she said. “I thought there would be no way I could with two young kids, but she insisted we try ones that were close.”

Before long, Weinstock and her friend were the top-ranked doubles team in the 35’s age group in all of New England.

That was just the beginning.

After such an accomplishment, the duo knew they could push for more. Their first national tournament was in Houston, Texas. Weinstock has since done other national competitions in California, Philadelphia, Seattle, Florida and elsewhere.

“I never knew how good I could be but I kept trying to do better and better,” Weinstock said. “I never had the opportunity when I was young to see what I could do with the sport.”

Seeing the world

Because of her high ranking, she was asked to represent the United States and the USTA at the ITF National World Team Championships.

Not once, but five times.

Her first international tournament was held in Turkey in 2008.

Most recently, she placed first in her age group at a tournament in Croatia.

She has earned a gold for singles and four golds for doubles —something that her 11-year-old self probably never imagined she would achieve.

“I can’t tell you how fortunate I feel to have the experiences I’ve had and to have met the people I’ve met,” Weinstock said.

Although she has plans to slowly start retiring from her position at the club as manager, Weinstock hopes to play tennis for as long as she can.