Editor’s note: This story originally published on Nov. 9, 2007.
Baseball fields for boys are located on campus at four of Springfield’s public high schools, but all the girls’ softball teams must play on off-campus city-owned fields.
In August, someone filed a Title IX complaint alleging that the situation is discriminatory to female students. Title IX is the part of federal law banning gender discrimination in public schools. Since 1972 it has been credited with expanding athletic opportunities for women and girls around the nation.
The complaint came as a surprise to athletic director Mark Fisher.
“From my understanding our coaches and community are pleased with the fields they play on at (city-owned) Meador and Cooper” parks, said Fisher.
This week, two investigators from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights came to town to tour facilities, district leaders said. Though the complaint concerned softball, they checked out other athletic facilities at the five high schools, as well.
“I would have to say there does seem to be gender discrimination,” said Joanne Levy, the mother of a Kickapoo junior who played softball last year. “The girls work hard, we have an excellent team. It doesn’t seem fair that they can’t have a field to call their own.”
Levy said she is glad the school district will have to review the issue.
Other parents of players reached by telephone echoed the sentiment, but did not wish to be quoted by name. The mother of a Hillcrest softball player said the district doesn’t provide transportation to the off-campus field, so players — new drivers — usually drive themselves. Last year, she said, one of the young drivers had an accident with other players in the car.
Fisher said softball teams started in the district in 1999. The first year games were only played in the city. The next year they started a competitive schedule playing teams outside the district.
It wouldn’t be possible — or at least it would be very difficult — to allow a field to be used for both baseball and softball, Fisher said. In baseball, a pitcher throws from a mound, while in softball there is no mound. Infields for the two sports are different sizes, so the grass areas and the dirt areas where players slide into bases would be in different places, he said.
Fisher said several of the high schools were land-locked, and didn’t have room to add softball fields. But he thought there might be space available if the district were willing to think creatively. One possibility might be to turf some fields, allowing them to be used as both practice and game fields. But, he said, that is expensive.
Associate Superintendent Peggy Riggs, who also accompanied the Civil Rights investigators on their tour of facilities, said she didn’t think there were places to add softball fields on campus. Last summer, she said, officials considered adding a field at Glendale but a spot initially thought suitable had drainage problems.
“Would we want all sports to have fields on campus? Absolutely. But you can’t do that with golf. You can’t do that with tennis.”
Riggs, who played sports in high school, college and in adult leagues, said she didn’t feel girls were getting the short end of the stick.
“I’ve played at Meador, I’ve played at Cooper, and they are great fields,” said Riggs.
About the lack of locker rooms at the city parks, Fisher said, “I guess that would be up to the individual’s thinking if that is equal or not.”
Fisher said baseball and softball coaches get the same stipends based on years of experience. A Level I coach in his or her first or second year of coaching earns $2,816. A Level V coach who has 10 or more years’ experience earns $4,619.
Hillcrest parent Scott Hurst said he thought whoever filed the complaint ought to have more patience. The district has only had softball for a short time, he said.
“If they would have had to have their own softball fields on campus before we could start, to this day we wouldn’t be playing softball,” said Hurst, who has three sons who played baseball and one daughter, a senior, who has played softball.
Hurst — who coaches private teams in the summer — said when the district added softball, it did open up opportunities for girls. “I can name you a dozen girls who went to college playing softball,” he said.
Riggs said the district does not know who filed the complaint.
The Web site for the Office for Civil Rights says most complaints are resolved within 180 days. Investigators could determine there is insufficient evidence that a violation exists. If they determine there is sufficient information, they work toward a resolution.
“We’ll comply with the Office for Civil Rights, work with them, and make sure we assist them in any way,” said Fisher.