When Maria Pepe was 12 years old, she had no idea she was going to make history. All she wanted to do was play Little League baseball with her friends - something Little League officials didn't want to happen in an organization where only boys were allowed.
"I just loved to play and just wanted the chance to play," Pepe said.
When Ed Stinson was growing up in Hoboken, he also loved to participate in all sports, but he had one dream in mind.
"I wanted to be a major league baseball player," Stinson said. "Although I played all sports, baseball was the game and it was played in a variety of ways - box ball, stick ball, kick the can. I grew up a Dodger fan and always wanted to play baseball. It's what you did back then."
Pepe and Stinson, both Hoboken natives, were able to make the most of their lives in athletics, and both were honored last week as two of the newest inductees into the Hudson County Sports Hall of Fame.
Pepe and Stinson, the legendary football coach at Hoboken High School, were among 18 prestigious sports figures from Hudson County to earn an induction in the 13th annual ceremonies, held at the Casino in the Park in Jersey City.
Breaking the gender barrier
Pepe was more than your average youngster growing up in Hoboken. In 1972, she became a very historic figure when she became the first girl to play in organized Little League baseball, setting off a firestorm that ended up in the Supreme Court and eventually opened the door for more than 100,000 young ladies who play in Little League baseball today.
As a toddler, Pepe would always play in stickball and whiffle ball games in the mile square city with the boys. However, when it came time to register with the Hoboken Little League, she thought she might have to be relegated to the role of a spectator.
However, Jim Farina, the current city clerk who was the coach of the Little League's Young Democrats team, recognized her talents and allowed her to try out. She made the team and pitched three games.
However, Pepe's inclusion caused a furor within the league and beyond. An opposing coach lodged a protest and parents pressured league officials to decide what to do with her.
Eventually, the International Little League Headquarters in Williamsport became involved and ruled that Pepe should be removed from the team or Hoboken Little League could face losing its charter.
A league official went to Pepe's home and told her that her days as a player were over.
"I was stripped of my uniform because I was a girl, not because of an inability to play," Pepe said. "As a 12-year-old, I couldn't stand up for myself, and that really hurt."
The incident received national media attention. The National Organization for Women (NOW) filed a civil rights lawsuit on her behalf, claiming sexual discrimination. The case was litigated in courts for more than two years and eventually went to New Jersey Superior Court, which ruled in 1974 that Little League baseball had to allow both girls and boys, ages eight through 12, to play. While it was a major victory for all young women, Pepe was 14 at the time and too old to continue her Little League dream.
Pepe continued to play competitive sports in recreation leagues and eventually earned a scholarship to play softball at St. Peter's College.
Recently, she was featured in an HBO special "Barrier Breakers in Women's Sports," highlighting all the women who broke ground in women's sports, like Billie Jean King. Earlier this year, ESPN Magazine made a list of the 10 most important moments in the history of women's sports and Pepe's triumph over the gender barrier in Little League baseball ranks as the No. 5 moment of all-time. The list includes President Nixon signing Title IX into law, granting rights to women and minorities in sports, Billie Jean King winning the "Battle of the Sexes," the U.S. women's soccer team winning the World Cup, and Wilma Rudolph winning three gold medals at the 1960 Summer Olympics.
Pepe's achievement was ranked ahead of Amelia Earhart's solo flights, and Shirley Muldowney, Janet Guthrie, Julie Krone, and Babe Didrickson Zaharias setting four world records at an AAU world championship meet.
Football is more than a sport
Stinson, who is Hoboken through and through, began his career as an athlete at Hoboken High School, but later made his biggest mark as one of the greatest coaches in the history of New Jersey high school football.
Stinson was a standout three-sport performer at Hoboken High, playing football, basketball and baseball, and graduating in 1965. He was on the 1964 Hoboken basketball team that won the North Hudson championship and earned All-Hudson County honors in football. He then became a fine receiver at Jersey City State (1967-69), where he earned All-New Jersey Athletic Conference honors.
However, it was as a coach where Stinson gained his greatest fame. Over the last 25 years, Stinson has carved his niche as a legend, coaching some of the greatest teams in Hudson County history.
"After I graduated from Jersey City State, my coach, Jack Stephens, offered me a position as an assistant coach there," Stinson said. "Maybe he saw something in me that I had the opportunity to be a coach. I continued my football education with Jack at William Paterson."
After seven years of being an assistant coach, Stinson began his coaching career at his alma mater and stayed from 1977 through 1980. The Red Wings won two HCIAA conference titles during that span and captured the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group III championship in 1980.
Stinson left Hoboken for a while, coaching Park Ridge from 1981 through 1984 and Pascack Hills from 1985 and 1986.
After his six-year sojourn into Bergen County, Stinson returned home for the 1987 season to take over the reins once again at his alma mater, this time enjoying even more success, winning more games, league titles, and state championships like no other Hudson County grid coach.
In Stinson's second tenure, the Red Wings have won five NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group III titles, in 1994, 1995, 1996, 1998 and 1999. During that stretch, the Red Wings had winning streaks of 38 and 29 games, which meant that Hoboken had a record of 67-1 over a six-year span.
The Red Wings were named the No. 1 team in New Jersey by the Associated Press in 1995 and the No. 1 team in New Jersey in 1996 by the Newark Star-Ledger.
Stinson's teams have captured 14 conference titles, including a record seven HCIAA titles in a row. A two-time New Jersey Coaches' Association Coach of the Year, Stinson was also named among the best high school football coaches in the nation by Schutt Sports American Magazine in 2000.
Stinson's 210 career victories ranks him third all-time in the history of Hudson County football, trailing only fellow Hudson County Hall of Famers Vince Ascolese, who was Stinson's high school coach and garnered 298 victories, and the late Joe Coviello, who had 254.
Stinson said that the Hall of Fame induction forced him to look back at his career and the people who influenced him along the way.
"It kind of makes you put the brakes on in a pleasant way and look back some 40 years when I began to play," Stinson said. "But I can't fully reflect, because it's still going on. My career is not done. Things like the championships and the winning streak, you don't understand the magnitude until it's all over. Right now, it's still going on. I have other things to do."
Stinson believes that athletics "is the best subject we're teaching in the schools and the best activity we offer to youth.
"It's an elective course that you don't have to take, but it's also not easy," Stinson said. "Athletics is a school without walls."
Stinson thanked all the people who helped him along the way, like coaching influences like Ascolese and Stephens.
"Coaches don't win games and championships, players do," Stinson said. "I've been blessed with hundreds of players who were willing to give so much. I had assistant coaches who were truly dedicated. I never coached a game by myself."
But Stinson didn't forget his wife, Marie, and his four daughters.
"In the Stinson family, football is more than a sport," Stinson said. "It's a way of life. There were many great sacrifices over the years. They allowed me to do what I have to do the most ahead of who I love the most. Really, that's what nights like Halls of Fame are for, my family. They understand that athletics is not all grunts and groans.
Stinson added, "Some 33 years later, I think the common thread between coaching and playing is that coaching is the closest thing to still be playing. The competition; you still feel like you're playing."
It's that drive that will keep Stinson on the sidelines for many years to come, long after becoming a Hall of Famer. Stinson became only the sixth active coach to receive the honor, joining St. Anthony Basketball Coach Bob Hurley, Secaucus Volleyball Coach Maria Nolan, St. Peter's College Women's Basketball Coach Mike Granelli, another Hoboken native, Memorial Baseball Coach Tony Ferrainolo, and Ascolese.