The path to equality: South Tahoe looks to even playing field for girls softball
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – There is no softball field in South Lake Tahoe that is equal to the baseball field at South Tahoe Middle School, where high school and Babe Ruth baseball is played. But there will be.
The baseball diamond located on the lake side of the middle school is nice. It has covered dugouts, a capped fence in the outfield, a scoreboard, several batting cages, a speaker system and so on. There isn’t a softball field that comes close to the amenities that the baseball field has, as of this week. There are five softball fields in South Lake Tahoe though, but none are dedicated high school softball fields.
“Neither the city or Lake Tahoe Unified School District have a regulation softball field,” said Don Borges, the athletic director at South Tahoe High School.
“We need dedicated ASA fastpitch fields that are not adult softball fields,” said Steve Kolesnik, who is president of ASA and the head coach for the STHS varsity softball team.
What we have in South Lake Tahoe is five adult softball fields. None meet NFHS or ASA regulations, regarding length of the field. For NFHS, which sets the standards for high school athletics in this country, the distance from home plate to the outfield fence should range from 185 feet to 235 feet. Right now, all fields in South Lake are much longer than that.
This season the girls’ softball team at STHS played their home games at the middle school, but in the past it has played at the high school with temporary fences erected to meet those measurements.
“The distance makes it regulation because of the (outfield) fence, but it doesn’t meet Title IX as equivalent,” Borges told the Tribune.
Next month will mark the 40-year anniversary of Title IX. The federal law was created and is enforced to ensure that, “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance …”
The city will also be required to meet gender equality with the passage of state law AB 2404 in 2005, which essentially is Title IX for cities, counties and special districts. They have until 2015 to comply.
The lack of softball fields in South Lake Tahoe, which are equivalent to that of the baseball field, is a Title IX issue first though, which has been active for four decades. This is because all ball fields in this town are on LTUSD property. They are managed by the city, but nonetheless are the responsibility of the school district. There is the multipurpose facility at the Lake Tahoe Community College, but no baseball or softball is competitively played there.
Title IX not only requires that all persons, no matter gender, can participate in athletics, but it also states that equal facilities must be given to all sports. The fact that the baseball field has a permanent fence at an appropriate distance, covered dugouts, a speaker system, a capped fence and batting cages – while no softball field for school athletes has all of that – puts the school in violation of the law. And it has been for a long time.
“Never.” said Borges when asked if the district has ever been in compliance of Title IX. “We’ve always had the baseball field with the fence since the ’70s.”
But never is not forever. In fact, the LTUSD should be in compliance with Title IX by next spring, when the softball field at the high school is completed. Its current state shows progress, with covered dugouts, an announcers’ booth with snack shack and bathrooms, proper seating and plans for a permanent fence. Granted, at the moment, construction has run into some issues. Seating is planned for the third and first base sides, between the dugouts and snack shack, but the placement and size of the dugouts obstruct the view of the field – similar to issues of the Babe Ruth field years ago. The dugouts are rather large, but in the end they will hold a team, and could probably hold several teams. And until recently, there were no plans for a permanent fence in the outfield, according to Steve Morales, the director of facilities at LTUSD.
To remedy those issues though, Morales said that they will move the field out farther from the backstop, giving fans a full view of the field. No bleachers will sit directly behind home plate. The dugouts will stay as such as well. Also a fence will be put in. Morales said the softball field was renovated to, ” provide a facility for girls’ high school softball, similar to the facility that the boys’ high school baseball teams were playing. We met with the American Civil Liberties Union legal representative, looked at both of the facilities and then agreed on the types of improvements that would be required to make these two fields comparable.”
The field was not complete this softball season, forcing the high school teams to play at the middle school. Construction has moved fairly slow, with not much work happening this spring, but it is scheduled to be complete by next season, giving the softball team a true home field, something no other high school softball or baseball team on the South Shore has.
“These things (ball fields) are really expensive to build and we’ve been kind of crawling along with these improvements, because so many of our sub-contractors that have been working on the project, have been working it in to their schedules and they’ve been providing free labor or providing large quantities of material or equipment,” Morales said to the Tribune. “That’s one of the reasons why it’s been going so slowly, because so many people have been throwing money in there.”
Morales roughly estimated that if the district were to foot the entire bill for the field, it would cost $125,000 to $150,000. He also estimated that they’ve put in less that half of that to renovate the field, which is a good deal by any account.
The district has also been the beneficiary when it comes to the baseball diamond at the middle school. Nearly all of the improvements from that field have come from the Babe Ruth league and Community Athletic Coordinating Council.
“Over at the Babe Ruth field, the Babe Ruth organization has taken on a lot of those improvements, almost all of the improvements. The district hasn’t thrown in any money into that at all. Our high school baseball team happens to play on that field, but the Babe Ruth organization is really the organization that has really footed the bill for all those improvements over there,” Morales said. “The reality of it is, the city puts money into that field as well, but a majority of it has come from Babe Ruth as well.”
Chuck Leonard is the chairman of the CACC, a nonprofit organization that oversees the scheduling and use of ball fields, along with maintenance. They collect fees from the different leagues that take advantage of the fields, which is $10 for each player, per season. That money from fees is then put back into the fields – baseball, softball, soccer and football – for improvement and maintenance. They also split $8,000 between the city and school for upkeep of the fields. Leonard acknowledged that there is a lack of equality of between the softball and baseball fields.
“There is an inequality, but the inequality is volunteerism,” Leonard said to the Tribune. “Yes there is an inequality. The reason there is an inequality is the Little League parents have chose to improve the field for their kids and the ASA parents have not.”
“It’s just a lack of … nobody has taken the initiative to do it,” Kolesnik, the varsity softball coach and ASA president, said. “That’s the bottom line.”
Leonard said that if an organization, mainly ASA, came to the CACC with plans for improvement, they would match funds to do so, noting that the CACC hasn’t had a request to improve softball fields since he joined the organization five years ago.
“That’s what we typically do, we will match funds. We will not provide labor, but we will match funds,” he said. “We’re open to it. Bring me a project, tell me how much it cost, give me a plan how to complete it. Say your bring me a $10,000 project and we’ll give you $5,000 for it.”
Whether or not there has been a group willing to lead a rejuvenation of softball fields in South Lake Tahoe, the fact that a baseball field on school district property was improved without the softball fields being improved as well, putting the district in violation and in a pickle. According to Borges, the district had three options: Ask the Babe Ruth league to hold off on improvements; make improvements themselves to match the Babe Ruth improvements; or require the league to make similar improvements to both fields. Asking a cash-strapped district to reject free labor and materials for facilities that will improve conditions for their athletes, is a lot to request.
“It doesn’t make any sense to me that you wouldn’t do an improvement, just because you don’t have an opportunity to improve both fields,” Morales said. “You do the improvements that you can when you have an opportunity.”
There is one more factor when it comes to fields and improvements in South Lake Tahoe: Where to spend money from Measure R that was passed in 2011 and will make $500,000 available this summer for field and bike trail improvements according to John Upton, the lone staff member of the South Lake Tahoe Recreational Facilities Joint Powers Authority. Ultimately both the fields and bike trails will get $500,000 each or receive funds utill 2030, which ever happens first. The money is eligible to improve all fields in South Lake Tahoe, whether baseball or softball, helping the city and the school meet equality issues.
“What the JPA’s role or the role of this funding, is enabling the city to meets it responsibilities relating equality,” Upton told the Tribune. “The level of fixes are doable in what we have available.”
The Fields Advisory Committee was formed to help decide where the money will go. They will meet from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday, May 21 at the City Council Chambers to discuss how to use the Measure R money.