By Abigail Funk
As more athletic directors, coaches, athletes, and parents are learning, when the baseball field is superior to the softball team's facilities, there may be grounds for a Title IX lawsuit. But the good news is school officials have become more receptive to acting on complaints, rather than letting an inequity concern turn into a crisis.
At Richmond Senior High School in Rockingham, N.C., a call from a softball player's parent to the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) last year prompted an investigation. "We knew we had some inequities in our facilities, and we'd had numerous conversations over time about fixing them," says then-Athletic Director Hal Shuler, who is now Assistant Principal at neighboring Rockingham (N.C.) Middle School. "But no concrete plans had been made, and with finances getting tighter, things had stalled."
About five months after two investigators visited campus to tour the facilities and interview coaches and athletes, the OCR sent a report outlining steps Richmond administrators needed to take to comply with Title IX. After the report was presented to Richmond's board of education, $105,000 in improvements to girls' facilities was approved.
This year, the softball field will be given new bleachers, as well as a fence, backstop, and dugouts. The infield and warning track will be regraded, and the irrigation system will be improved. Lights are scheduled to be added in a second phase, set for next year.
"I never saw it as a negative that a parent went to the OCR," Shuler says. "We knew we needed to make some changes, and the parent's concerns were valid. His complaint got things moving in the right direction, and the end result is what matters."
A complaint filed with the OCR in Nov. 2009 by former Lincoln Land Community College Head Coach Jim Davis also prompted an on-campus investigation. Fast-forward to June, when school officials sprang into action after receiving the OCR's report.
Based on the OCR's findings, within the next year, the Loggers will have a newly-constructed, regulation-size practice field, and see improvements to their game day field, including two bullpens with pitching lanes, a relocated scoreboard, and an improved press area. The team was immediately granted equal access to the school's batting cages and equal opportunity to operate the outdoor concession stand at home games.
It isn't just inequity in facilities that draws attention, however. The location of a field can be part of a Title IX complaint, too.
At Baldwin High School in Wailuku, Hawai'i, Head Coach Joe Duran and the families of three players filed a Title IX lawsuit against the state Department of Education and Maui County in federal court in March. Duran and the players claimed the squad was forced to move its practices to a lesser-quality field located about a mile away so local Little League teams could hold practices and games on a field closer to school.
Officials maintained the switch was necessary because the softball season was recently changed to overlap with baseball, and that the field the softball team was moved to was of good quality. (Baldwin High School uses the county's fields because it doesn't have fields of its own on campus.)
Days after the filing, a federal district court judge ruled that the state and county must either allow the team to return to its original field or make immediate improvements to the condition of the field the squad was moved to. Less than a month later, the governor's office agreed to release more than $1 million for the construction of a new softball field on Baldwin's campus as part of the settlement.
At Warrenton (Ore.) High School, a similar situation has resulted in the community coming together on a new field construction project. After years of the softball team traveling a mile away to practice and play--at a field with no restrooms--it was mandated that the softball and baseball teams have equal facilities.
With a tight budget hovering, parents, administrators, community members, coaches, and players are spending months volunteering their time and services to move a wetlands area at the high school and convert the space into a new softball field. Though the finishing date is more than a year away, the softball community is excited about the improvement.
"I can't wait to see it done," Athletic Director and former Head Coach Heidi Lent told The Daily Astorian. "I think the girls should have as nice a facility as the boys have. It's time."
Abigail Funk is an Assistant Editor at Athletic Management.