sábado, abril 13

Mo’ne Davis, a Little League Star, Begins Grad School at Columbia

Her sudden sprint to celebrity started on a small mound of dirt in South Williamsport, Pa., 46 feet from home plate, winging 71 mile-per-hour fastballs and sweeping curveballs, braids bouncing behind her as she went.

Nine years later, Mo’ne Davis is walking up Broadway, near 116th Street, just about that distance from the main gate of Columbia University. She is wearing gray sweats and a dark pullover and the braids are still behind her, though not bouncing at the moment.

This week, Davis began her pursuit of a master’s degree in the Ivy League’s only graduate sports management program, where she is undoubtedly the only student who has appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, won an ESPY, written a book, starred in a commercial directed by Spike Lee and met Barack and Michelle Obama in the White House.

Enrolling in Columbia is merely the latest stop in Davis’s improbable, and high-achieving, journey.

“I always believed that nobody can tell you you can’t do something,” said Davis, 22, as she sat on a bench on a recent afternoon near Columbia’s Low Library. “This world is huge, and there is so much space for everyone to do something great.”

It was August 2014 when Davis’s Taney Dragons Little League team, out of Center City Philadelphia, won the Pennsylvania state championship and advanced to the Mid-Atlantic regional championship. Davis pitched a three-hit shutout to send the Dragons to the Little League World Series, and five days later was even more dominant in the opener against South Nashville, Tenn., giving up two infield hits and striking out eight, her 4-0 victory making her the first girl to win a game in tournament history.

Mo’ne Mania took off from there and didn’t stop even when Taney came up one game short of playing for the U.S. championship. Mike Trout and Kevin Durant were among those who posted about her on social media. The Sports Illustrated cover, with the words “Mo’ne Remember Her Name,” followed. Jimmy Fallon bet her a Philly cheesesteak she couldn’t strike him out in a Wiffle ball at-bat; Fallon whiffed and had to pay up. Davis, who is believed to be the only African American girl to compete in the Little League World Series, couldn’t go anywhere in Williamsport, Pa., without getting mobbed for photos and autographs. She handled it with astonishing grace, even though it made her uncomfortable.

“I didn’t like it because it’s a team sport,” she said. “It’s not about one person. My teammates deserve credit for helping me become the player I was.”

At the top of that list was her catcher, Scott Bandura, a skinny, undersized kid who had a live left-handed bat and an uncanny ability to call a game and set hitters up.

“He’s the smartest player I’ve ever played with,” Davis said.

As Davis arrives in the Ivy League, Bandura, now a 6-foot-4, 190-pound outfielder, just departed. An All-Ivy slugger at Princeton, Bandura was drafted in the seventh round this summer by the San Francisco Giants, and is thriving for the club’s Class A affiliate in San Jose, Calif.

Davis loves Bandura like a brother. They’ve been teammates for most of their lives, playing baseball, basketball and soccer for the Anderson Monarchs, a traveling team from Philadelphia that was founded by Steve Bandura, Scott’s father.

“She is extremely humble and grounded, but she is also confident,” Scott Bandura said of Davis. “She has had to handle a lot of different situations over the last 10 years, and nothing seems like it fazes her.”

Steve Bandura first spotted a 7-year-old Davis while doing maintenance work at a ball field, watching in wonder as she threw a football with her cousin — one perfect spiral after another. He asked if she would be interested in joining the Monarchs, competing with boys. She got her mother’s OK, and Davis immediately became a Monarchs standout, then earned a scholarship to Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, a private school in Philadelphia where Scott Bandura and his sister, Stephanie, were also enrolled.

“Without Coach Steve and his family, I wouldn’t be where I am,” Davis said.

Davis excelled, academically and athletically, at Springside, playing varsity basketball and soccer starting in eighth grade, and junior varsity baseball in ninth grade before switching to softball. Everyone seems to agree basketball was her best sport. In one game in sixth grade, playing for the Springside middle school, the team won by a score of 41-38. When Steve Bandura, who coached her on the Monarchs but not at Springside, asked her about the game and how much she scored, she said she didn’t know.

“Well, roughly, how many points do you think you had?”

“I don’t know,” she said.

Later, Steve Bandura posed the same question to Springside’s coach, Deb Brady.

“She had 35,” Brady told him.

Steve Bandura likened Davis’s point guard game to that of Steve Nash because of her creativity and playmaking ability. Her dream for a long time was to run point at the University of Connecticut before she rolled her ankle the summer before her senior year and was in a boot for six weeks. She didn’t enjoy her A.A.U. experience, and decided that top-tier Division I basketball wasn’t for her, not least because she didn’t grow after sixth grade; even now Davis is virtually the same size — 5 feet 5 inches and 120 pounds — she was in Williamsport.

Davis wound up earning a softball scholarship at Hampton University, an H.B.C.U. on the coast of Virginia, playing middle infield, studying journalism and earning a degree in communications with a 3.67 grade-point average. Opting to pursue graduate school, she was accepted into Columbia’s sports management program and then applied for, and won, an H.B.C.U. fellowship that covers the full $125,000 cost of the three-semester program. Scott Rosner, the program director, said Davis’s Little League World Series pedigree, and the fame that followed, had “zero to do with her acceptance.”

“She’s all in. She’s a front rower, literally,” Rosner said. “She is super engaged and doesn’t have any pretense or airs about her.”

Even before her first Columbia credit, Davis has built a striking résumé. In 2021, she worked in Washington, D.C., doing color commentary for the D.C. Grays, a team in a summer college baseball league. A year later, she took on more broadcast work for M.L.B. and ESPN, and this summer, she moved to Los Angeles, where she lived with Rodney and Holly Peete (whom she met amid the Williamsport whirlwind) and interned in the Dodgers’ video production department.

Davis’s biggest challenge may be figuring out where she goes from here. Her coursework for this semester includes classes like sports accounting and finance; sports marketing; foundation of sports management; and sports law and ethics. She continues to have a passion for broadcasting. She is intrigued by the idea of working in a front office. Having seen the growth in women’s sports — most recently evidenced by the record-setting attendance and viewership of the Women’s World Cup — she thinks that would be a seamless fit.

“I want to get more involved, not just speaking about it, but being hands-on with it,” Davis said.

One day she would like to be part of an ownership group to bring a W.N.B.A. or National Women’s Soccer League franchise to Philadelphia, but that is not for now. Nine years after a spin in the spotlight made Davis one of the most heralded athletes in the country, she is happy to be a regular graduate student.

“Being in New York City, being able to learn from these professors, it doesn’t get better than this,” Davis said.