Bangor girl steps to the plate on boys baseball teams

Posted June 17, 2011, at 5:17 p.m.
Last modified June 17, 2011, at 10:08 p.m.
Kess Lavoie bats first in the order for Varney's during a Bangor East playoff baseball game Friday, June 17 at Taylor Field in Bangor.
Michael C. York
Kess Lavoie bats first in the order for Varney's during a Bangor East playoff baseball game Friday, June 17 at Taylor Field in Bangor.
Kess Lavoie of Varney's works her gum with intensity as she watches a runner on first base during a Bangor East playoff baseball game Friday, June 17, at Taylor Field in Bangor.
Michael C. York/BDN
Kess Lavoie of Varney's works her gum with intensity as she watches a runner on first base during a Bangor East playoff baseball game Friday, June 17, at Taylor Field in Bangor.
Kes Lavoie of Bangor stretches to catch a ball during warmups before her team's Bangor East Little League baseball game at Taylor Field on Friday night. Lavoie plays for Varney's, and she played baseball for Cohen Middle School this spring as well.
Michael C. York/BDN
Kes Lavoie of Bangor stretches to catch a ball during warmups before her team's Bangor East Little League baseball game at Taylor Field on Friday night. Lavoie plays for Varney's, and she played baseball for Cohen Middle School this spring as well.

BANGOR — As Kes Lavoie stepped up to the plate in the Cohen Middle School B baseball team’s last game against crosstown rival Doughty School on Monday, cheers of encouragement like,”Great job, Kes!” and “Way to get it done, Kes!” echoed from all angles of Garland Street Field.

Lavoie is believed to be the first girl to make any Cohen baseball team, according to assistant principal and athletic director Doug Ferguson, but she wasn’t thinking about that Monday. With a runner on third, she roped a hard ground ball to the pitcher, driving in a run for the Eagles.

She was thrown out at first for the second out of the inning, but she had done her job and her teammates supported her.

Lavoie may have crossed gender lines this season, but what is also drawing attention are her baseball skills. The 12-year-old starting second baseman moves on every play when she’s patrolling the grounds between first and second, backing up the pitcher after every throw back from the catcher even if no one’s on base.

She pays close attention to the opposing pitcher when she is in the on-deck circle, and roots for her teammates while on the bench, giving 100 percent in everything she does.

Lavoie, who also stars for Varney’s in Bangor East Little League, was hitting above .700 for Varney’s as of June 12, and is one of the league’s premier infielders. She has only struck out once all year between both the middle school league and Little League. She is showing that she has the skills to compete with boys her age, which is something her father Scott and her mother Leigh-Anna saw early on.

The Lavoies moved to Bangor in 2000 when Kes was 3. One afternoon in their backyard Leigh-Anna gave little Kes a wiffleball bat and she got hold of the ball Leigh-Anna threw at her.

“It was one of those realization moments,” Scott Lavoie said. “Ever since she’s been baseball, baseball, baseball. She loves it.”

There were points when it wasn’t so fun, though. On step-up day last year at Cohen, the first question Kes Lavoie asked was if she could play baseball. And when the administration told her no, it didn’t set well with her. Upset, she went home and told her parents, asking if they could meet with Ferguson to figure something out.

In Maine, if a the school offers a comparable female sport, then girls are expected to play for the female team.

“We asked Kes repeatedly to switch from baseball to softball because we were trying to work within the system, but she wouldn’t take no for an answer,” Scott Lavoie said.

So, Lavoie and her parents met with Ferguson a few days later, and several months later they came to an agreement that if she could show that she could compete with boys of her age and not get hurt, then she could play.

When tryouts came in the spring of 2010, Kes played decent, but didn’t make the team. She still didn’t take no for an answer. She went to the administration and asked what she could do to make the team next year, and they simply told her that she needed to get better.

“We were so impressed an 11-year-old came up and approached us like that,” Ferguson said.

Knowing she wasn’t going to be able to play for the school team, she honed her skills and practiced during Little League. Her parents started finding foods that were high in nutrition and protein so she could get a little stronger, which she would need going from Little League bats to the bigger middle school bats.

Scott brought her to the WIN indoor training center in Brewer, and she started to get used to swinging the bigger bat.

When tryouts came this year, Lavoie made the team as a seventh-grader and has displayed strong fundamentals and leadership.

“Although Kes isn’t a vocal leader, she leads by example and is very considerate of others,” said Cohen B team coach Jason Eremita, a former Bangor High School baseball player. “A true team player.”

On Varney’s, coach Keven Ireland and his assistant, UMaine women’s soccer coach Scott Atherley, have a concept they like to call the “perfect player.”

“When you strike out, you can do two things,” Ireland said. “You can hang your head, and throw your bat, or you can run back to the dugout and cheer on your team. I think we all know which one the perfect player is, and Kes is the ideal example of that. We’ve seen her strike out and run back to the dugout with a smile on her face.”

A girl playing a boys sport at any level can be a challenge, but Lavoie’s  teammates on both Cohen and Varney’s support her and treat her with respect.

“Our players treat her like any other teammate, and with nothing but politeness,” Eremita said.

Lavoie hasn’t got a lot of heckling about being a girl playing baseball, except for one instance earlier in the middle school season when a Doughty player mentioned to her, “Dude, you’re a girl!” Her response was: “Yeah, you’re a boy.”

Scott and Leigh-Anna Lavoie have always looked at their daughter playing baseball as normal, and that she deserves to be treated like everyone else.

“Our kids look to Kes when the game is on the line,” Ireland said. “It’s a little relief to them when she’s up at the plate because they trust that she can get that big hit.”

Ireland also mentioned that he and Atherley not only stress the fundamentals, but have also started talking about the mental aspect of baseball, and that “Kes has got it.”

“Some kids are born with it mentally, and for Kes to fuse that with her talent and passion and pass it on to others is unbelievable,” said Ireland.

Lavoie’s success may have also inspired other girls on Bangor’s East Side, as UMaine baseball coach Steve Trimper’s fifth-grade twins Aly and Morgan are also on Varney’s, making them the only girls currently competing in Bangor East’s Major League, according to league president Dale Duff.

As far as playing at the high school level, the Lavoies are going to approach it the same they did at Cohen. If their daughter can compete with the boys, then she should get a chance to try out for the high school team.

For now, Lavoie is concentrating on her upcoming games. When asked if Varney’s had a chance to win the Bangor East championship, Lavoie, who was recently named to the 11-12 all-star team, echoed her never-give-up attitude saying, “Oh yeah, we got what it takes.”

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