After a half-hour of taking notes at Monday's Fields Advisory Committee meeting for the South Lake Tahoe Recreation Facilities Joint Powers Authority, I put my pen down and realized that there really wasn't a point. They were far from a productive path in their fourth meeting to decide where $500,000 of Measure R ball fields money will go.
Gender equality is no doubt an important topic to fix in South Lake. It is a shame girls in South Lake Tahoe do not have a field comparable to the boys' baseball fields. It's ridiculous there isn't a solid field for girls in ASA to play on. The fact that boys get covered dugouts compared to the upgraded chicken-wire that the girls have for a dugout is downright bad. The fact that they do not have their names called out before stepping into the batter's box, such as the boys do from an announcing system, is ridiculous. The FAC has an opportunity to fix these issues, but they are too busy arguing about what would be acceptable, that they are going nowhere.
I sat in that meeting dumbfounded by the group's inability to recommend solutions to the issue. It seems that the group has different ideas of what would be considered equal, though they are quick to throw out references to AB 2404 and Title IX, laws that require gender equality for athletics in cities and schools. Now, not every member is on the same page and has the same view of the situation or as knowledgeable in the various topics the discuss, but for this committee to be of any use, they need to.
The most vocal person on the board is Marilyn Breisacher. She has brought the issue of gender equality to the committee, as appropriate. Without her input and willingness to step up, the issue that girls softball fields have been neglected would have gone unnoticed. But her quest for equal facilities is being diluted by the constant arguments, in what seems to have become a two-sided room with Breisacher on one side and everyone else that makes up the committee on the other. And when a room is split as such, no side is really winning. The male members of the committee feel so alienated that most of them felt they had to mention they have a daughter before speaking.
It seems as if no one understands what equality is, and how equality can be met. So I called a lawyer who specializes in equality issues for females and LGBT rights. Elizabeth Kristen is a staff lawyer and director of the Gender Equality Program at The Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center. I'm not sure why someone from the committee could not do such, but nonetheless Kristen is a tremendous resource for creating an equal playing field in South Lake. In her experience, there is often an issue with equality between boys' and girls' athletics. When asked if it is a Title IX violation that the softball and baseball fields are not equal, she said, "The Title IX analysis is a little more complicated than that."
Title IX - and I keep referencing Title IX because state law AB 2404 is still a young law that has not been challenged in court yet, and when it does, Title IX will be heavily referenced, according to Kristen - is an overarching look at all sports provided by a school district. It's not a narrow look at softball vs. baseball, but a look at all programs and ensuring that girls have the same opportunity to participate in athletics. Softball happens to be part of that scope.
According to Kristen, the school district has tremendous responsibility to ensure their high school softball team has a field equal to the baseball field because they own all the land that the fields play on.
"Even if they were using city fields, they are making sure the teams are getting facilities," she said. "So they're responsible."
On the topic of the softball field being constructed at the high school, it really does cause you to scratch your head. The dugouts are huge, stretching 36 feet long. While that may be odd, it really isn't an equality issue and I doubt any player would really care. What is currently an issue, is that they block the view of first and third base, but according to LTUSD's director of facilities, Steve Morales, they will remedy that by backing the field out. The announcer's booth is only one level, but that shouldn't be an issue as long as it's functional. There is only one toilet out there, and that is just crazy. There isn't as much seating out there as at the baseball field, but according to Kristen, "That may not be a problem; it depends if they have appropriate seating for that sport."
But there are other issues with the field according to South Tahoe's athletic director, Don Borges. Looking at the new softball field diagram for the first time earlier this week, he said he saw no flagpole, no warm-up area for pitchers, no plans for more batting cages - everything that the baseball field has.
"The person that drew the plans has some obvious flaws in the design of the softball field," he said. "Had I been able to help in this, just by looking at the drawings I could've pointed out some flaws in the design of this drawing."
I have no idea why Borges would not be involved in the design of any field, as the athletic director, and neither does Borges. In fact, it would make sense to me that he would be heavily involved after 12 years as athletic director. Until the field is complete though, I want to have faith that the district will build a field that provides a great atmosphere for fan and players.
What I understood from Kristen, if the softball field at the high school does not have all the same amenities, such as a capped fence, the same amount of seating and such, that doesn't automatically qualify as a Title IX violation. Again, it's looking at the entire athletics program. Maybe the school adds some benefits to other female sports to balance the inequality which would suffice. "We're going to treat the girls basketball team a little better for the extra batting cages," Kristen said as an example. But is that really a solution?
"I think it sends a terrible message to girls," Kristen said.
"In my opinion if the girls have as nice of a facility as the boys, and it starts at the lower levels, then our programs become equal at the higher levels," Borges said. "Now, I look as a community, where are the girls softball fields? I don't see them."
It is appalling there isn't any sort of dedicated softball fields for young girls. You can make the argument that girls can play Little League, but they're likely not going to play baseball as they get older. The committee talked about making convertible fields, meaning they can switch between baseball and softball, but that is just plain dumb when there are plenty of fields in town that can be dedicated to each sport. Convertible fields simply take away from the quality of the game. A convertible field has to be skinned to an all dirt in the infield. That means a gigantic softball infield, forcing the outfielders to play near the edge of the dirt. In baseball, a hard hit ground isn't going to lose any speed on the dirt as it would on the grass. Is it worth compromising the quality of the game?
"The problem is they're generally not appropriate fields for softball," Kristen said about convertible fields. "They're generally too big and not OK for softball fields."
Why not build a similar complex as the Little League area for softball? And don't tell me there isn't any space in this town, when there is a good amount of land sitting next to the community soccer field next to the college. One field has already been built there, so it's not hard to imagine any more couldn't. What about money? One thing this community is amazing at is finding money. They received a million dollars for ball fields and bike trails. The high school, as strapped for cash as it is, continues to build great additions to the campus such as the student union and soon to be started sports medicine facility through grant money. And let's not forget the money that was raised to renovate Viking Stadium.
It's time for this community to put its best foot forward, as it has done so well on so many other occasions. But for something like that to happen, this committee is going to have to start talking instead of bickering.