Betty Jane Cornett's love of sports turned her into a pioneer.
At 16 -- long before her memorabilia landed in sports museums and halls of fame -- she left her home in Troy Hill to try out for a girls professional baseball team, eventually winding up as one of several hundred women nationwide to participate in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, AAGPBL. It became a story she cherished for the rest of her life.
Ms. Cornett, of Reserve, died March 18 after battling a pulmonary disease. She was 73.
The youngest of 11 children, Ms. Cornett grew up a tomboy. She spent her free time in recreation centers swimming, ice skating and playing basketball and softball. "She could play ball better than any of the boys," her sister Mary Lou Carr said.
Ms. Cornett participated in 1950 and 1951 in the women's baseball league that Philip K. Wrigley established during World War II and that was later celebrated in the 1992 movie, "A League of Their Own."
Ms. Carr said her sister was one of nine Pennsylvanians to participate in the league.
She played briefly for the Rockford Peaches -- the team coached in the movie by Tom Hanks -- attending etiquette classes, traveling throughout the region and playing the sport that she loved.
"The money was pretty good, too," said Sharon Roepke, a league historian who has helped establish the league's players' association. "They were making more than they would have in production jobs: maybe $50 a week, plus room and board."
Teammates nicknamed Ms. Cornett "Curly" because of her hair. After leaving the Peaches, Ms. Cornett pitched and played third base for the Springfield (Ill.) Sallies, the Battle Creek (Mich.) Belles and the Kalamazoo (Mich.) Lassies. Once, she even played in Yankee Stadium -- a moment she later described as the highlight of her career.
Those years of baseball guaranteed her spot in baseball history. During the more recent years, following a 24-year career with the H.J. Heinz Co., Ms. Cornett traveled to several reunions for former AAGPBL players.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum features more than 50 artifacts from the league. An enlarged copy of Ms. Cornett's baseball card is featured at the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum, and a second-floor display still holds her mitt, hat and cleats.
"She was so thrilled to see [the museum display]," Ms. Carr said. "We have a photo of Betty Jane in her wheelchair next to her big, enlarged baseball card."
Besides Ms. Carr, Ms. Cornett is survived by two other sisters, Gilda Ann Tyska and Virginia Suess.
Mass will be celebrated at 1 p.m. on May 6 at Most Holy Name of Jesus Church, Troy Hill.
Chico Harlan can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1227.