In honor of Women’s History Month, San Francisco Recreation and Parks is featuring some of the many women who have made a profound impact on our parks and programs.
In the 1970s, 10-year-old Rachelle Henley (née McCann) would take her baseball glove to the local park every afternoon and wait by the fence until the coach of the boys’ team would ask her to shag fly balls. There weren’t many opportunities for girls to play ball back then–Title IX programs were just in their infancy– but when she got the chance, Henley made the most of it, becoming the only girl in her hometown to play on a boys’ baseball team at the time.
Now an early childhood program coordinator for San Francisco Recreation and Parks, Henley would go on to lead an illustrious sports career, playing basketball, softball, volleyball and track for El Camino High School in South San Francisco and San Francisco State University.
In 1993, Henley was shocked and delighted to receive an invitation to try out for a spot on the historic Colorado Silver Bullets, an all-female professional baseball team and the first of its kind since the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in 1954 that was made famous by the hit movie A League of Their Own.
Out of the 2,000 women from all across the country who were invited to try out for the team, Henley was one of only 24 players to survive the six-week tryout, becoming one of the team’s third-basemen for the inaugural 1994 season.
The Silver Bullets, coached by former Major-Leaguer Phil Niekro, played 44 games during its first season, touring the country and playing against men’s all-star amateur and semi-professional teams. While they didn’t win many games, the significance of their accomplishment wasn’t lost on Henley or the team.
“We played against some tough competition, and a lot of the teams we faced played a little harder because we were women,” Henley said. She recalled an at-bat during which she was badly fooled by a curve ball; she dared the pitcher to throw the same pitch again and was promptly hit by the next pitch. The ensuing bruise on her arm was a badge of honor for her.
“We didn’t win many games but we showed we could be on the same field,” she said.
After that first season, Henley, who for many years went by her nickname, Rocky, a moniker given to her by Niekro because he thought her high-pitched voice was similar to a well-known cartoon character’s, was encouraged to apply to the Recreation and Park Department by the late-Oscar Jimenez, her basketball and softball coach at Mission Recreation Center.
“I always saw recreation as my career,” she said. “The opportunity to give something back and to do something I loved was too big to pass up.” In her nearly 20 years working for the Department, Henley has coached numerous youth sports teams and hosted a number of softball clinics for girls.
“There are so many opportunities for girls to play now, and Rec and Park is a big reason why girls don’t have to wait by the fence anymore to get on the field. We’re helping to make it happen,” she said.
Henley hasn’t completely hung up her own cleats. She still plays every Sunday in the summer in the California Women’s Baseball League.
“As I get older though, the ground is getting harder,” she said.
Still, Henley has plenty of memories from her season as a professional women’s baseball player, most notably, the opportunity to play at Candlestick Park in front of her family on Mother’s Day in 1994. Her grandmother, who turned 85 that day, always encouraged Henley to follow her dreams.
“When I was a kid, we were on the third base line at a Giants game and I told my grandmother that I would be the first woman third baseman to play at Candlestick,” she recalled. “I was glad she was there to see it happen.”