SportsKid of the Year 2014: Mo'ne Davis

Mo'ne Davis is the 2014 SportsKid of the Year!

During her first ever baseball game, in 2009, there were three things that made 7-year-old pitcher Mo’ne Davis stick out: her pink glove, her raw talent, and her resolve. Sure, she was the only girl on Philadelphia’s Anderson Monarchs team — the  glove was a dead giveaway — but the power of her arm drew a lot of attention, too.

So there she was, facing one of Philly’s top power hitters, an 8-year-old boy from a nearby Parkwood neighborhood youth team. The righthander delivered a fastball to the plate and watched the batter slam a rocket to the outfield in the fenceless ballpark. It was a home run.

“Mo’ne put her head down,” Monarchs coach Steve Bandura remembers. “I went out to check on her. I thought she was crying.” 

“She was mad,” Bandura continues. “After that, she struck him out every time he was up to bat. She had good command and a competitive fire, even back then."

Five years later, Mo’ne is no longer sporting the pink glove, but she’s still striking out the boys and drawing attention.

Mo’ne, now a 13-year-old with a wicked 70-mph fastball, became the most talked about pitcher this summer (move over, Clayton Kershaw) when she threw two shutouts in August. The first one advanced the Philadelphia Taney Dragons all-star team to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. The second one propelled her into the history books, as Mo’ne became the first girl in the 75-year history of the LLWS to pitch a shutout in the tournament. The 5' 4" flamethrower did more than just play a boy’s game. She dominated it, showing the nation that a girl can throw heat, too. She also inspired countless kids to dream big. That is why Mo’ne Davis is the 2014 Sports Illustrated Kids SportsKid of the Year.

mo'ne davis sportskid of the year 2014

Triple Threat

Mo’ne’s baseball dominance didn’t come from endless games of catch or playing tee ball. In fact, she had never thrown a baseball before she joined the Monarchs, a year-round travel team with which she also plays basketball and soccer. 

When Bandura discovered Mo’ne in the fall of 2008, she was tossing around a football with an older cousin and some friends at Philadelphia’s Marian Anderson Recreation Center. Up to that point, she had played video games and ridden her bike for fun. Mo’ne wasn’t the sporty type, but she showed off a natural athletic ability that caught Bandura’s eye. “She was throwing these beautiful spirals and throwing the football far,” Bandura recalls. He introduced himself and invited her to the Monarchs’ basketball practice.

Mo’ne, who had played basketball with her older brother, Qu’ran, picked up the game quickly. “We were doing a three-man weave,” says Bandura, describing the passing drill. “She was looking at the other kids carefully. I could see she was processing [the drill]. Her turn came, and she looked like she had been doing it forever.”

By the time Mo’ne was 10, her signature move was a dizzying crossover that still makes the boys defending her trip over themselves. (Head over to YouTube to see for yourself.) She can be truly punishing on offense. Last year, as a seventh-grade point guard for the Springside Chestnut Hill Academy’s middle school varsity girls hoops team, Mo’ne scored 33 of her team’s 42 points in a victory. She’ll play on the girls’ high school varsity squad this winter — as an eighth grader.

“I’ve mostly played up in age,” says Mo’ne, who points out that she squares off against older kids across all sports. “It’s a challenge, and the competition is better.”

A midfielder for the Monarchs’ soccer team, Mo’ne also plays the position for the high school varsity squad. Says Bandura, “She has a spatial awareness that allows her to see the soccer field and the basketball court like a chessboard. It’s amazing.”

Mo’ne displays similar brainpower in the classroom. As a second grader, she enrolled in Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, one of the elite private schools in Philadelphia, where she scored high on her entrance exam. She has been an honor roll student ever since. Last year, she received the Seventh Grade Advisors’ Award given to the student who “has a great work ethic, calm determination, and great tenacity in everything she does [and] inspires others to do their best work.”

As for the Monarchs, Mo’ne has helped the team capture 13 titles in basketball, baseball, and soccer. In 2011, she was part of the Monarchs’ trifecta title year, in which the team won championships in all three sports.

mo'ne davis sportskid of the year 2014

Throwing Like A Girl

Although Mo’ne prefers the court to the diamond (she wants to play at the University of Connecticut and pursue a career in the WNBA), her control of the baseball is what made her a national sensation last summer. In her historic LLWS shutout with the Taney Dragons — the All-Star team that boasts top young players from Center City Philadelphia — she put away a tough Tennessee team in six innings. She fanned eight batters, allowed two hits, and didn’t walk a single player in a 4–0 win. “It’s so easy to call pitches for her because I know she’s going to hit the same spot every time,” says Bandura. “It’s one thing to know that a batter can’t hit this pitch in this location. It’s another thing when you can put the pitch there consistently. And she can do that.”

She did it in Williamsport, it seems, without breaking a sweat. “It was nerve-racking, but I kept cool,” she says. “My team told me, ‘Go out and do what you do and we’ll back you up.’ They did. But me getting a shutout? I was a little shocked. I did it before, but this was a bigger stage.” 

And everyone was watching. Mo’ne’s mom, Lakeisha; step dad, Mark; and siblings, Qu’ran, 16, Maurice, 9, and Mahogany, 7, were in attendance. After her barrier-breaking performance, Mo’ne became a trending topic on Twitter, with everyone from First Lady Michelle Obama to superstar athletes Mike Trout and Kevin Durant tweeting about her. This fall, she threw out the first pitch at Game 4 of the World Series and donated her jersey to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Taney eventually lost to Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West in the semifinals, but not before Mo’ne redefined what throwing like a girl meant and made an impact on girls across the country.

Mo’ne was the 18th girl to compete in the LLWS and one of two this year. Her opponents don’t get too caught up in the fact that they are playing against a girl — unless her fastball or slider gets the best of them. “I’ve heard players say, ‘I got struck out by a girl!’ They are pretty amazed by her,” says Monarchs second baseman Jahli Hendricks, 13. “We are, too, but it’s not because she’s a girl. It’s because she’s a great pitcher.”

Anna Wolfgram Evans, a second baseman for the Hilliard Baseball Association team in Columbus, Ohio, sees herself in Mo’ne. “She represents girls like me,” says Evans, 14, the lone girl on her team for the past four years. “Mo’ne gave me a boost of confidence to go out there and play my game no matter who I’m playing against.”

Adds 10-year-old Isabel Tilles, a catcher and pitcher for the Marlins San Francisco Little League team, “Mo’ne blazed a trail. She made me believe I could be just as good or better than the boys. I don’t have to model myself after a male baseball player, like [San Francisco Giants catcher] Buster Posey, who’s my favorite. I’ve got Mo’ne now. I’m in fifth grade, but when I reach middle school, I’m definitely trying out for the baseball team. Mo’ne is inspiring me to do that.” 

Check out this slideshow to meet the 2014 SportsKid of the Year finalists!

Photographs by Al Tielemans/Sports Illustrated

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