Just one of the guys. That’s how most would describe Katie Burt. At 16 years old, she has accomplished more in her athletic career than most can hope to achieve. And some of her biggest achievements have been in baseball – a sport she loves. A sport she is no longer allowed to play.
A native of Lynn, Massachusetts, Burt’s number one sport has always been hockey and her goaltending has gained her national recognition as one of the best female goalies of her age group. Burt was first recognized when she was in 6th grade at Pickering Middle School. The local high school team, a combined team of Winthrop and Lynn players called the Lady Bulldogs, lost their goalie due to an injury, and Burt was called up to play. She became the youngest-ever starting goalie for a high school team and was acknowledged for her impressive achievement when featured in Sports Illustrated’s Faces in the Crowd in the February 2009 issue. The Globe featured her in a piece entitled “Youthful Savior”, written by Michael Vega.
Burt’s talent never centered solely on hockey, but transferred from the ice to the baseball diamond. Since the time she could throw a ball, Burt has been a baseball player. Her father, Jimmy Burt, has been a local coach in the Wyoma Little League and Babe Ruth programs. Her brother, Cory Burt, led a successful career in the game, playing for elite teams such as Legends Baseball, based out of Middleton, Massachusetts. So for Katie, baseball was instinctive, and her dad says it was her true passion.
“Katie has always been a baseball player. She loved it more than hockey.”
Burt is what you would refer to as a natural talent. She is one of those athletes that excel at any sport, at any position, she takes on. So it was no shock to anyone that she turned out to be one of the best baseball players ever to come out of Lynn. Her father notes her baseball ability was evident at a very early age.
“She had really good hands and a swing at 3 years old that I would have died for,” said Mr. Burt of his daughter.
Her impressive skill and knowledge of the game began shining through in 2008, her second year of her Little League career. She was unanimously selected to the Wyoma Little League all-star team and led them to a District 16 championship win. In her final year of Little League, Burt was named the home-run derby champion – the first female to ever win, defeating 19 other male participants.
In Burt’s first recorded year in the Greater Lynn Babe Ruth program, she was unanimously selected to the all-star team. This began a three-year streak where she was chosen as the number one all-star prospect, beginning in 2010 until her final year in 2012. In 2010, Burt once again drove her team to a finalist spot in the district championship. In 2011, the same team won districts and continued through the state tournament, where they were named runners-up.
One of Burt’s previous baseball coaches, Jeff Earp, has never been surprised by her talents, and explains that her teammates never saw her as anything more or less than a great player.
“She [Katie] is both mentally and physically tough, so tough in fact that each and every boy on each and every team she has played for respects her abilities to such a degree that she is always the Captain of the team, named by her peers. She is both feared and respected as a teammate. If Katie speaks, all listen and all respond. She will have it no other way. She is a true leader, in every sense of the word,” said Earp.
When it came time to decide on the best plan for her academic and athletic careers, Burt made the choice to attend Buckingham, Browne and Nichols, also known as BB&N, located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Burt knew she wanted to play both hockey and baseball at her new school. Hockey was an easy move, as she had always played women’s hockey. Baseball, however, was a different story
Burt ran headfirst into the ruling of Title IX, a law passed in 1972 that requires gender equity for males and females in any educational program that receives federal funding. A general review of this rule states that for every male-designated program, an equivalently female-designated program must be offered.
While the original statute made no explicit mention of athletics, the law has energized the movement for women’s high school and collegiate athletics. According to the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletics Administrators, or the NACWAA, “In order to be considered in compliance with Title IX, athletics departments must show that they are achieving parity in the following three areas: participation, treatment in program areas and athletic financial assistance.”
The first area, participation, involves a three-prong test of compliance to determine whether or not aspects of this component are being met. These prongs are proportionality, history and continuing practice, and effective accommodation of interests and abilities. In order to comply, an institution must pass at least one of these tests.
The second component, treatment, requires equivalent benefits and opportunities. This includes locker rooms, practice and competitive facilities, equipment, game and practice schedules, publicity, coaching, travel and daily allowances, recruitment, and other services such as medical, housing, dining, and academic.
The third and final component is financial assistance, which deals directly with athletic scholarships. This area of Title IX states that the allocation of scholarships is directly proportionate to the number of males and females participating in athletics.
At BB&N, all of these requirements are met. And since softball is considered the female-equivalent to baseball, even though Burt had never played the sport before, she was forced to switch to softball because of her gender. Where equal opportunity was meant to be offered, Katie became the exception to the rule.
According to Burt, there’s no process that tells you what sport you can or can’t play. It’s an unwritten agreement, as far as she is concerned, and varying opinions on the interpretation of the rule excluded her from participating in a sport she has loved and excelled in for years.
“You can either say that baseball is or isn’t the equivalent and that’s what determines if I can switch or not,” said Burt on the Title IX ruling.
Burt took this as a major hit to her athletic career, seeing as she had spent her life training and playing on a baseball team.
“When I went to BB&N, I was set on playing baseball and I was told that I had to play softball because it is the girls’ equivalent to baseball, which is completely false. School rules say that if there is a girls’ equivalent of a sport, then I have to play that sport,” said Burt.
She even thought about fighting the rule by filing a complaint, but was told that it was a pointless battle.
“I was told that other people have tried to fight the school in the past and they lost so I didn’t bother trying to fight it,” Burt replied when asked why she didn’t dispute the ruling.
Katie says that the biggest problem with this ruling, especially in her case, is that what is considered to be the female equivalent of baseball is actually a completely different sport altogether. Burt listed the differences she could come up with off the top of her head.
“It’s one-hundred percent a different sport. The ball is bigger, the base paths are 60 feet instead of 90, the mound is closer, the fence is closer. The mentalities are different. The coaching is different. The pitching is different in all respects. The rules are different. Even the infields can be different. The bats are different, there’s no leading, no pick offs or balks. The physical mound is different. In softball, it’s just a piece of plastic drilled to the ground. There’s no actual mound of dirt to go on.”
Burt’s sentiments aren’t shared with some of her softball teammates. Adriana Raymond, a good friend of Katie’s, was able to play a couple games in Babe Ruth with Burt when she originally made the switch from softball to baseball and asked to practice with the local softball program to get used to the changes in the game. While she believes Burt should be able to choose between baseball and softball, Raymond believes that softball is in fact the female equivalent of baseball.
“We do the same things. Hit balls, run the bases, dive for balls. We’re just as competitive as the guys are, we’re just playing with our own sex,” said Raymond on comparing softball to baseball.
Raymond says Burt had no trouble adapting to softball, stating her natural ability was evident immediately.
“If I remember correctly, her first time ever up to bat playing softball for us, it bounced off the fence and she got a triple. We knew right there when she started softball she was going to be so good at it.”
But even though Burt’s athletic talents were clear in both sports, Raymond is only too aware of Katie’s personal opinion.
“She tells me all the time how much she misses baseball and wishes she could still play. She likes softball but her love for baseball will never compare,” said Raymond.
Burt’s transformation from ace pitcher and catcher in baseball to utility softball player has resulted in more mental challenges than physical. Burt notes that the biggest hurdle she had to get over was the switch in coaching styles.
“Coaching guys is a lot different than coaching girls and I was always coached as one of the guys. Now that I’ve switched, it’s tough to be coached differently.
When asked to explain more thoroughly, Burt gave this explanation.
“I’ve noticed that the coaches that I’ve played for when I was playing baseball were a lot tougher. You know if you make a mental mistake, you’re going to get yelled at. You make a dumb play or say something back, you take a lap. Or if you’re collectively having a bad practice, you run. If you miss a sign, you’re benched and you run laps at practice. In softball, there is none of that. It’s a lot more laid back and the mentality is just totally different.”
As far as personal preference is concerned, Burt favors the tough coaching approach.
“They are more effective. It teaches you how to compete under pressure. They’re focused on perfection. You know the consequences of making crucial mistakes and if that’s in your mind in practices as well as in games, then your effort in the game should be just like it is in practice.”
The crossover from baseball to softball has not only affected Burt’s athletic career, but also her personal relationships with her teammates. She explains that she has played with the same group of guys since she began in baseball, and the switch has changed the way she interacts with them.
“I think our friendships will always be there, but now that I’m not on the field with them they won’t be as strong as they used to be.”
Admittedly, Burt has always hung out with boys because their athletic achievements brought them close together and they had common interests and goals. However, since her shift to softball, she has been able to foster new friendships with the girls at BB&N.
“The switch has brought me closer to the girls at school because I’m with them everyday, and we fight together as a family to win every game,” said Burt.
Family has always been a major part of Burt’s baseball success, and it almost goes without saying that her shift in sport has had an effect on those relationships, more specifically with her dad, Jimmy.
“I know that it has definitely affected my dad. He still coaches baseball at the Babe Ruth level. I know that he still wants me to play. I would always be closer to my father during the summer because he was my coach. I would be curious to see what it’s like during the summer when I’m not playing baseball.”
She won’t have to wait long to find out, as this summer is the first that Katie may not be playing baseball. She has outgrown the age limit of Babe Ruth, and therefore has been looking at other options to fulfill her passion. She recently submitted footage of herself to the USA Women’s Baseball team and is currently awaiting a reply. If they are interested, she may get an invitation to try out in North Carolina, but says that as of right now she has no other plans.
Up until this upcoming season, Burt has played baseball every summer. Even through her freshman year at BB&N in 2012, she participated in the Babe Ruth baseball program. At a certain point, her softball and baseball seasons crossed over and Katie found herself scrambling to play both sports.
“I think played a few Babe Ruth games in my BB&N uniform. I would always find myself rushing in from Cambridge to get to Breed [Field].”
Burt says she found the switch from baseball to softball to be quite easy, but found reverting back to baseball to be difficult, as she believes baseball is much harder than softball. It was worth it though, in her eyes, because she loves the game. When asked if she thought playing baseball in the summer was worth it, even though she had to play softball during the school year, Burt gave a one-word answer.
Competing in baseball is far different than competing in softball, according to Burt, but she still believes that despite the gender difference, she would have continued to be a major contender in the sport. However, she is also aware that the change in sports will offer her better opportunities in the future, especially at the collegiate level.
“I’m doing very well in softball and might even play in college. If I hadn’t made the switch to softball, I would only be playing hockey in college instead of possibly playing hockey and softball. In that respect, it is great that I made the switch,” said Burt.
As of now, Burt, currently a sophomore, has verbally committed to playing women’s hockey at Boston College, an NCAA Division I program operating within the Hockey East Association. She notes that nothing is set in stone, but would love to continue her athletic career at BC.
No matter what sport Burt plays, whether she sticks with softball or finds herself playing with the USA Women’s Baseball team, she will dominate the game. As her one-time coach, Earp calls Burt “a once in a generation athlete” and has said coaching her has been a privilege.
Despite the possibilities that softball offers her, Burt remains adamant that the decision to play baseball or softball should have been her own, rather than a decision based upon a law that is not followed by many schools across the nation. When asked what she would have chosen, Burt didn’t hesitate, immediately responding with baseball.
“I don’t think the change was for the best, not at all. Not for me. I love baseball. I would definitely choose that,” said Burt.
And her father agrees, saying, “If she had her way she would play baseball. She fully understands that her path to a future is with hockey, but she just can’t let it [baseball] go.”