Brittany Chan is hoping to do something this fall that no woman in the history of Ryerson has ever done — compete on a men’s varsity team.
Chan, a first-year business student in hospitality and tourism, currently holds a conditional roster spot with the newly formed Ryerson baseball team, after impressing the coaching staff during the first round of tryouts last October. If she survives the final round of cuts later this summer, the 19-year-old pitcher for the Canadian women’s national team could find herself in the unique position of becoming a pioneer in Canadian women’s university sport.
“I’m not doing it just to be in the spotlight or for the extra attention … I’m doing it to play the sport I love,” said Chan. “It’s no big deal that I’m a girl. I consider myself to be one of the guys. I’ve done it all my life.”
Ben Rich, Ryerson’s head coach, certainly wasn’t willing to close any doors when it came to adding talent to his first-year program, regardless of gender.
“When (Chan) first emailed me with interest, I knew my job was to put together the best possible team and if that meant having a female on the team, then so be it,” said Rich. “So long as there were no Ryerson or OUA regulations preventing us from doing so, if she was capable of playing at this level, then that was the most important qualification for me.”
Thankfully for Chan, the OUA confirmed in February that she was eligible to play on the men’s varsity team, while Ryerson Athletics also gave her the green light.
“In (Chan’s) case, there is no corresponding women’s program for baseball,” said Stephanie White, associate director of athletics at Ryerson. “From our standpoint, if her skill allows her to play the game and physically she can compete, we didn’t have a problem with her playing (with the men’s team).”
Growing up in Richmond Hill, Ont., Chan loved playing sports as a child, but never baseball. It wasn’t until she was 12 years old that she took up the game, after her parents pleaded with her to join her younger brother’s house league team, just so they could field nine players.
“They had to beg me to play,” recalled Chan, whose father, Stephen, was the coach of the team of 10-year-olds. “They allowed me to play down (in age) because I was a girl and I had never played before.”
But under the guidance of her father, the right-hander learned how to throw and hit a baseball, quickly dominating her younger male foes. So much so, she was ultimately banned from pitching in the championship game that season, after leading her team to an undefeated record.
Over the next four years, Chan blossomed into an accomplished young ballplayer. She was the only girl to make her local high school baseball team, before deciding to turn her attention to women’s baseball, earning a spot on Team Ontario’s women’s midget team in 2010.
Her new squad’s biggest test that year came versus an all-boys team in Toronto’s west end. And it had nothing to do with balls and strikes.
“The (boys team) were joking, laughing at them, making stupid comments. When they got on base they were asking for their phone numbers,” recalled Chan’s father, Stephen. “It’s the stuff that’s uncalled for … but people are generally pretty amazed by what the girls can do.”
One particular person who was amazed by Chan’s abilities was Canadian women’s national team head coach André Lachance. In 2012, he would select the Montreal native to represent her country at last summer’s Women’s World Cup in Edmonton.
And there she was. Pitching for Canada in a major international baseball tournament, on her home soil, as the second youngest player on her team, with her entire family watching.
“I remember being extremely nervous, probably the most nervous I’d ever been,” said Chan, who gave up two runs in one inning of work versus the Netherlands in her national team debut. “I didn’t show (on the mound) that I was rattled – I have a poker face when I pitch – but I know when I got off the field, I was shaking.”
One of Chan’s coaches on that bronze medal-winning team in August was none other than Samantha Magalas, the first woman to play men’s university baseball in Canada. Magalas was the starting first baseman for the York Lions in 2004 in the Canadian Intercollegiate Baseball Association (CIBA), and remembers how difficult it was to fit in at times.
“When you start to feel that you have something to prove because you’re a girl, I think that’s when you start to get into trouble,” said Magalas, who now works for the OUA as their sport development officer. “If (Chan) just sticks to her game plan and stays within herself, she’s going to be fine.”
Chan, who is listed at five feet five inches tall and 130 lbs., understands her physical limitations as an OUA pitcher. Her fastball, which tops out at 66 miles per hour, is almost 20 m.p.h. slower than her male counterparts. “(I have to) be smart to compensate for the lack of speed and power that I have,” said Chan. “If I leave something right down the middle, these guys are strong enough to put it over the fence.”
For now, Chan has been forced to withdraw from Ryerson’s winter workouts as she rehabs a right-shoulder injury suffered at a Canadian national women’s tournament in Cuba last month. Never deterred from a challenge, she still has her sights set on making history this fall.
“I would be extremely happy if I made it,” gleamed Chan. “It would mean a lot to me.”
She’ll have one last chance to impress the coaches during the Rams’ final tryout in late August. And if she makes the team, at Ryerson, she would truly be in a league of her own.
This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on March 20, 2013.