In 1960, the same year the Pittsburgh Pirates won their third World Series title, another athletic league was making a name for itself in the city. That’s when a Hill District native named Mildred Allen helped create one of the largest community athletic associations in Pittsburgh: the Triboro Softball League.
Allen’s daughter, Beatrice Allen Harper, said her mother loved sports and channeled that passion into the teams she oversaw. She was a coach, a commissioner of the league and played second base on the Hill District Satelites. Harper said after word got around about the league, dozens of teams called her mother saying they wanted to join.
“They say, ‘Miss Allen, we got a team, we want to know if we can join your league,’” Harper said. “It was like the word of mouth and people just started calling her up and all.”
As a player-manager, Harper said her mother was strict. She would fine her players if they drank alcohol or smoked weed or went swimming before a game. All the women on her team had to have their hair done, and no one could wear dangly earrings.
“If someone messed up, she’d just cuss us out and make us to do it right,” Harper said.
The Satelites played teams from the North Side to McKeesport, with names from the Garfieldettes to the Homewood Orbits. At any given time across the city’s baseball diamonds during season, someone would be practicing. The Satelites played their home games at Ammon Field, now called Josh Gibson Field. Heinz History Senator Director of African American Programs Samuel Black said crowds of neighbors showed up for games.
“These leagues had a lot of fanfare,” Black said. “They had a big following and was really supported by the communities that they played in.”
The Civil Rights movement was in full swing and the Triboro League provided an outlet for black women who were struggling for equal rights. In 1970, they were sponsored by the African American nationalist group, the United Black Front. The organization held outreach activities, fought for civil rights and created economic development plans for Pittsburgh’s black community.
“United Black Front were just trying to improve the living conditions of the community and provide not only education, but real life enrichment activities for the youth of the community,” Black said.
Allen, her husband, Thomas Allen and sister, Beatrice Mahaffey led the league for years, taking the women on trips to Canada and Ohio. Harper said the traveling was so the players could get out of Pittsburgh and see some of the country.
“[The trips] were for everyone to say they’d been somewhere,” Harper said. She added that she’s often approached by women who remember her mother or playing on a Triboro team. It’s one reason she decided to donate many of her mother’s athletic memorabilia to the History Center.
The league disbanded in 1976. By that time, Allen’s Satelites had won a handful of league championships. The federal Title IX legislation had recently passed, requiring funding be allocated equally for men and women’s athletics and educational programs. Harper said in the years following, her mother took up ceramics and babysat area kids.
In the years the Triboro teams played in Pittsburgh, Black said they were an important outlet for African Americans still struggling for equality. The league’s popularity and support illustrated the resiliency of the community.
“That type of impact, showing that this is something that can be done, this is something the community wanted, they followed through on it, and it lasted for nearly two decades.”
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