Softball player inspired by legacy
Grandmother played for Rockford Peaches
Aubrey Leach always knew where to find one of her favorite movies.
Her family watched “A League of Their Own” so many times during her childhood it became permanently wedged in the DVD player.
Any time Aubrey wanted to feel an instant connection to her grandmother, she simply had to grab the remote control and press play.
Wilma Ann Williams-Leach was a member of the Rockford Peaches in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.
Although Williams-Leach was not featured in the film, it provides Aubrey with a constant appreciation for her grandmother’s pioneering spirit.
The Tennessee sophomore takes pride in knowing her grandmother helped pave the way for the opportunities she’s received in softball – the scholarships, the nationally televised games, the sold-out stadiums.
“Growing up, my dad would always tell us how the door is opening for women’s sports and softball was becoming more and more of a nationwide thing,” Leach said. “Now to have the SEC Network and everything is just amazing. To think my grandmother was a part of that in the beginning was an inspiration and really kept my morale up and kept me going when we were younger.”
Williams-Leach’s legacy on the diamond lives on through her granddaughters.
Aubrey and her three sisters grew up playing competitive softball in The Woodlands, Texas. Kelcy, 17, has committed to play at Texas Tech, and 11-yearold twins Alannah and Gabrielle are rising stars.
Williams-Leach never had a chance to see them play. She died in 1993 at age 59 from an inoperable brain tumor.
“That is one of the things that really hurts. I wish she could have seen my four daughters on the softball field,” Aubrey’s father, Todd Leach, said. “Aubrey and Kelcy are so much like her with their attitude and discipline and their drive.”
Williams-Leach was the matriarch of an athletic family, yet extremely humble about her own athleticism. She didn’t tell her children much about her baseball career.
Todd Leach was an All-American football player and golfer at Southwest Baptist University. Todd’s older sister played volleyball at Arkansas State, and his older brother played football at Western Kentucky before being tragically killed in a car accident after a spring practice.
Todd Leach’s father, Lyn, was a fastpitch softball pitcher, and the family traveled around the country in a motor home to watch him play in tournaments.
“Growing up, I thought every mom was as athletic and competitive as mine. If I wanted to play catch and my brother and sister weren’t available, she had no issue picking up a glove and playing hard ball,” Todd Leach said. “Really the only time I regretted it was when I was being disciplined. She had a strong right arm.”
Williams-Leach was raised in a small town in Missouri and was well known across the state for her athletic prowess.
At a time when girls sports struggled for recognition, she was featured in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for her high school exploits. As a catcher in softball, Williams-Leach helped her school win district four straight times. As an outside hitter in volleyball, her teams never lost a match in four years.
“She was always like the icon of our family and where it all started from an athletic standpoint,” Aubrey said. “She was just a baller out there, and knowing that is kind of where I get it from is exciting.”
Williams-Leach played for the Rockford Peaches in the summer of 1953 – 10 years after the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League’s inception
Her older brother drove her to Chicago for the tryout when she was a 17year-old high school senior. After finishing school, she left for Rockford the day after graduation
Williams-Leach played second base and some outfield for the Peaches, batting .260. She lived with a host family that she remained in contact with throughout her life.
Her stint lasted only one season because the league disbanded in 1954.
Williams-Leach returned home to Missouri and enrolled at Arkansas State. Nearly 18 years before Title IX was implemented, Arkansas State did not offer women’s sports, so Williams-Leach joined the cheerleading squad and earned a degree in education.
“It actually worked out for me that she didn’t play sports in college because one of her sorority sisters was from Topeka, Kansas, and said she was going to do an internship at the Topeka Police Department and they had another opening,” Todd Leach said. “My mom went up there that summer and met a guy detective named Lyn Leach. That is how my parents met.”
Williams-Leach eventually became a nurse and arranged her work schedule around her children’s athletic events. As they got older, her children began learning more and more about her past.
Todd Leach has tried to collect as much information as possible to share with the rest of the family. He has a few newspaper clippings and a headshot from her time with the Peaches.
Williams-Leach was able to see “A League of Their Own” before she died.
“I was older at that point, so we had some great conversations and I was able to understand the experience a lot more,” Todd Leach said. “She said the uniforms were exact and they had coaches like Coach (Jimmy) Dugan there. But she kind of joked they never stopped at those juke joints to drink beer and smoke like they did in the movie.”
Aubrey Leach is awed by everything her grandmother accomplished despite the obstacles for females in sports at the time.
Her grandmother’s spirit remains with her every time she takes the field for UT or signs an autograph for a wideeyed little girl.
“I wish she could be here now to give me pointers and just see how the game has evolved more and more,” Aubrey said. “I wish she was around so I could pick her brain and see what she knows. I think she would be impressed with how much everything has changed.”
going when we were younger.”
Tennessee’s Aubrey Leach says she wishes her grandmother “could be here now to give me pointers and just see how the game has evolved more and more.”
Wilma Ann Williams-Leach played in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Her granddaughter, Aubrey, plays softball at Tennessee.