By John Groh, President/CEO, Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau
If you know Rockford, you know our beloved Peaches – an amazing crew of female athletes who played professional baseball while male baseball players were defending our country during World War II. The Rockford Peaches competed in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL), overcoming obstacles to do what they loved – play baseball. Their story of swinging for the fences and breaking down barriers is captured in the 1992 movie A League of Their Own, which is back this summer as Prime Video launches an original streaming series by the same name on August 12.
For 30 years, Rockford has enjoyed broad notoriety from A League of Their Own — the top grossing baseball movie of all time — and with the reboot, once again, Rockford will be in the spotlight as the hometown of the Peaches.
The new series examines the triumphs and trials of the women who played and those who wanted to. Unlike the movie, the Prime Video widens the lens on the Peaches’ real-life experience with a focus on race and sexuality, featuring Black and queer women throughout the storylines.
While the story of the Rockford Peaches is rooted in sports and baseball, it is also the story of female empowerment and elevating women beyond sports. Rockford has a strong heritage of accomplished women and today, a host of female- and minority-owned businesses call Rockford home.
Zina Horton bought family-owned business Zammuto’s in 2007. A man showed up, and repeatedly told her that the restaurant’s granitas were all wrong. That man was Joe Zammuto, whose father had originally started the business. With coaching from Zammuto and support from him until his death, Zammuto’s experienced a revival as an authentic, homemade Rockford favorite.
SPoRT Makeup was born out of a desire to commemorate the Peaches’ 75th anniversary. Locally developed, the line began with a “Peach Diva” lipstick and blossomed into an entire array of Rockford Peaches-inspired makeup. The company is owned by the Rockford-based International Women’s Baseball Center.
After the death of Emily Hurd’s father, she realized life is short. She was spurred to start The Norwegian here in her hometown. It started with a crumbling building unknowingly laden with problems, but, with a community-backed Kickstarter campaign and the drive to save a historical building, a warm, eclectic restaurant now reflects Rockford’s Scandinavian roots and contemporary spirt.
Janene’s Event Design Studio & Social Café opened in March 2020 as a special event supply company. The day after, businesses began to shut down due to Covid-19. So, entrepreneur Janene Stephenson had to pivot her business model. Now, her store front operates as a showroom for other entrepreneurs. This go-getter also led the effort for local initiative “Buy Black Weekend Pop Up Shop,” this past February.
And, of course, those are just a few of many.
As we look to the future, Think Big, Rockford’s only entrepreneurial support center to solely focus on businesses owned by women and minorities, helps startups launch, grow and thrive. The Think Big School of Business hosts workshops from local and nationally recognized business leaders, and recently approved funding from the city is further bolstering Think Big by providing a building and program support to further business development opportunities.
Along with these businesses, many of our influential institutions are led by women, including Therese Thill, President of Rockford Area Economic Development Council, and Caitlin Pusateri, President of Rockford Chamber of Commerce. Both leaders are new in their roles, and we’re excited to be partnering with them to make the Rockford region better than ever.
Rockford’s legacy of female empowerment has roots in our beloved Rockford Peaches. Inspired by the resolve and determination of the Rockford Peaches, the new A League of Their Own is poised to empower a new generation of women and minorities to “swing for the fences.”
I’ll be cheering for them and hope you will, too.