From the Asbury Park Press -
Among the collection of newspaper clippings, team logos and other items cataloging Mary Ontek’s life as an athlete is one very cool photograph.
It’s sometime in the 1930s, and Ontek, grinning, wearing her New York Roverettes uniform, is standing with a group of her softball teammates. They are gathered in a grass field, apparently receiving batting tips.
Only female athletes are pictured in the photo, except for the instructor. The man holding the bat is possibly the most famous American athlete of all time … Babe Ruth.
“She was always smiling. In all of her photos, she’s always happy,” said Chris Covella, Ontek’s 48-year-old nephew, standing one recent morning in the dining room of the Brick home where Ontek spent the last years of her life.
Ontek died Nov. 9 at the age of 92. She lived most of her life on Staten Island but moved in with her nephew’s family a few years ago because of health issues.
For most of her life, she was an avid athlete, playing softball and baseball long before women’s sports were as widespread as they are today. She was also a well-known bowler on Staten Island, and Covella even has an October 2000 letter announcing her induction into the Staten Island Bowling Hall of Fame.
The many artifacts she kept over the years give an interesting glimpse into how different sports … and American culture as a whole … were decades ago. A 1934 letter to the New York Bloomer Girls players, one of Ontek’s many teams, tells the members of plans to play some weekend games in Pennsylvania in the upcoming season. This was big news … Pennsylvania, according to the letter, had just legalized Sunday ballgames.
The Bloomer Girls were the first organized women’s baseball team in New York, according to the New York Women’s Baseball Association’s Web site.
Born Dec. 19, 1913, Ontek lived long enough to witness all 26 World Series titles by her beloved New York Yankees. Covella said she wasn’t thrilled to see the team fall to the Detroit Tigers in the first round of the playoffs this year, but she was always an optimist.
“Next time,” Covella said, describing her reaction.
He added: “She was always a happy-go-lucky person.”
If there was such a thing as a Yankees Fan Hall-of-Fame, Mary Ontek should have been in it. Sounds like she had a great life.