Clendaniel hopes to inspire more girls to play baseball in Alaska
Anchorage’s Athena Clendaniel has always been the only girl on her baseball team.
From Little League to American Legion, she has carved her own path.
Clendaniel wished more Alaska girls played baseball and hopes to inspire the next generation to prevent future females from being alone on the baseball field.
“It’s the best game ever,” said the 16-year-old. “I really want to introduce girls to baseball and let them know that they can play.”
Clendaniel was so determined to increase participation that she took matters into her own hands by partnering with the nonprofit Baseball for All to create a Girls Day camp that will take place Sunday at Lyn Ary Park in Anchorage.
“Girls just don’t realize that other girls play baseball,” she said.
There are no rules that prohibit girls from playing baseball, only outdated stereotypes.
Some people believe girls should stick to softball, but baseball players like Clendaniel and Nadia Chernich of Fairbanks are helping to reshape that perception.
Both girls are playing Legion baseball this summer, with Clendaniel pitching and playing first base for the West varsity and Chernich playing first base for the Fairbanks 49ers junior varsity.
“Having two girls in the league is pretty awesome,” Clendaniel said.
It takes courage to buck the system and go against the grain. Being different can be difficult, especially as a teen, so credit Clendaniel and Chernich for having unflinching resolve and chasing their dream.
They are following in the footsteps of Alaska baseball pioneers Wandee Murray and Lauren Frost.
Murray was the first girl to start a varsity baseball game in the Cook Inlet Conference in 1995 with Bartlett. Frost was the first girl to be voted to all-conference for CIC baseball in 2013.
Clendaniel is now the third girl to be an everyday starter in the CIC.
“It’s definitely nice knowing there have been a couple of others before me,” she said.
Clendaniel drove in the game-winning run in her first CIC league game of the high school season. This summer in Legion she ranks among the pitching league leaders in ERA.
“It’s definitely been a little harder this year as I’ve moved up to varsity, but I just go out there and do my best and sometimes it works in my favor,” she said.
The boys long ago accepted her as just another player.
“I’ve been playing against these same guys since Little League All-Stars and now moving up and playing them in high school and Legion. Most of them I know pretty well,” she said. “For the most part they’ve been pretty accepting.”
Clendaniel has heard stories from girls in other states about how they are still not welcomed on a baseball field.
“I know a lot of girls where their high school coaches won’t even let them try out for the team or their teammates don’t talk to them or things like that,” she said, “so it’s definitely super nice knowing that I’m just another one of the guys and it’s not really a big deal.”
More girls are playing baseball today than ever before. Clendaniel is hoping her Girls Day camp will pique the interest of younger players in Alaska.
Her message is already spreading. She recently heard from a mother of two 13-year-old girls in Seward who are coming to her camp.
“Their mom texted me that they wanted to help out,” Clendaniel said. “That’s pretty awesome.”