Mo’na Davis is special. She’s got 70 m.p.h. heat on her fastball, a fall-off-the-table curveball and a devastating changeup. Among the many reasons Davis, the standout pitcher for the Taney Dragons, has starred at this year’s Little League World Series.
The other thing working for the 13-year-old, apparently: her gender.
Players in the tournament range from ages 11 to 13, a time of enormous change — the onset of adolescence and all the physical transformations that follow. But not all change is equal, and girls generally get a two-year head start with their growth spurts. The average 12-year-old girl is slightly taller and weighs more than the average 12-year-old boy, according to data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Davis turned 13 two months ago, and her physical gifts are apparent every time she delivers a pitch. At 5 feet 4 inches, Davis is more than 3 inches taller than the average 12-year-old boy. Her height would put her in the 50th percentile of 18-year-old women. Being tall and lean for her age allows her to generate additional velocity on her pitches.
There’s more. Dr. Theodore Ganley, the director of sports medicine at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where Davis’ Dragons are based, also credits her gender for extra flexibility in her throwing shoulder, which allows her a better angle of rotation and, consequently, harder throws.
Of course, the argument could be made that genes — whether they be ones that make you bigger, stronger, faster or, in this case, a woman — account for nearly all the talent disparity across sports of all ages. Meaning, Davis is excelling for reasons no different than anyone else, regardless of gender, and her story and success should be celebrated. Period.
The downside: while gender has helped Davis develop faster, it also gives her a lower athletic ceiling than the boys she’s currently dominating. She’s “likely near skeletal maturity” given her size and age. Meaning, she’s unlikely to get much taller. According to Dr. Mininder S. Kocher, the associate director of sports medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital, that makes it highly unlikely that her fastball ever reaches 90 m.p.h. But not impossible.
“You just need one outlier,” he said.
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