ACLU Seeks 'Level Playing Field' for City Sponsored Girls' Softball League in Oregon

Affiliate: ACLU of Oregon
April 4, 2002 12:00 am

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GRANTS PASS, OR–Saying that local Recreation Department officials unfairly discriminate against girls’ athletics, the American Civil Liberties Union today filed a lawsuit seeking an immediate court order that will give the girls’ softball league equal access to playing fields before the new season gets underway.

The case, Ashley Bellum et. al v. City of Grants Pass, is being brought on behalf of a group of girls ages 8 to 18, who compete in the Amateur Softball Association’s Grants Pass Blaze softball league.

“”The ACLU is attempting to establish a new precedent by holding a municipality responsible for gender inequities in the athletic programs it sponsors,”” said James Dole, an ACLU cooperating attorney from Grants Pass. “”Prior to this, challenges to gender inequity in sports were primarily seen in the context of high schools and colleges.””

At issue is the city’s failure to give the girls’ softball team equal access to quality facilities at the All Sports Park in Grants Pass. The complex’s six diamonds are the primary venue for practices and games of the community’s four youth baseball and softball programs. The city has dedicated the two playing fields of the highest quality to the exclusive use of the two boys’ baseball leagues.

This practice, the ACLU lawsuit charges, violates the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution as well as a state constitutional guarantee that government will not discriminate on the basis of gender. The lawsuit also cites violation of an Oregon law that provides for equal access in public accommodations.

The discriminatory policy has negatively affected the girls and their families in a variety of ways, according to the ACLU complaint. For instance, while the boys’ teams enjoy exclusive access to well-maintained fields, the girls of the Blaze league have been forced to share the remaining four diamonds with all the teams in the city’s Little League, the local high school’s varsity and junior varsity softball teams, and various community adult softball leagues.

Since practice and game times constantly change in order to accommodate the schedules of all the other leagues, teams in the Blaze league are forced to practice on weekdays late into the evening, often cutting into time set aside for home work. Games are usually scheduled on Sunday mornings, forcing spectators and players to decide between attending church services and going to the game.

“The facilities the girls have been forced to play on don’t have covered bleachers, batting cages or even proper dugouts,” said Lenora Lapidus, Director of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project and co-counsel in the case. “”How can we expect our daughters to grow up with a strong sense of identity when the community treats them like second-class citizens?””

The ACLU complaint seeks an immediate court ruling to prevent the city of Grants Pass from implementing a discriminatory field schedule for the girls’ Spring/Summer 2002 softball season, which started this week. The lawsuit further asks the court to order the city to provide the Blaze league with a dedicated home field of comparable quality to the dedicated fields provided to the boys’ baseball leagues.

Over recent decades, enforcement of federal law has allowed female athletes to make great strides toward equity in the context of school athletic programs. Still largely unaddressed, however, are the sharp gender disparities in community sports programs across the country.

“”Numerous academic studies show that girls who participate in sports have higher levels of self esteem and confidence and are less likely to experience depression than girls who do not play sports,” said Rocio Cordoba, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Southern California who is co-counsel on the case and who brought a similar case in 1999, Baca v. City of Los Angeles.

The Baca case resulted in a settlement in which Los Angeles agreed to build a brand new facility that currently serves as the exclusive ‘home’ field for the West Valley Girls Softball League.

The legal complaint is online at:

A fact sheet on gender equity in girls community softball programs is online at

To view photos of the Blaze team and the playing fields at the All Sports Park in Grants Pass, follow the links below:

grantspass1.gif: Plaintiffs, members of the ASA Blaze softball league.

grantspass2.gif: Dugouts at Field One at the All Sports Park. The ASA Blaze is not scheduled for any time on Field One in 2002, though it is the only regulation sized softball field in the City.

grantspass3.gif: The shared concession stand for Fields One through Four at the All Sports Park, which the ASA Blaze is permitted to use.

grantspass4.gif: Field Two at the All Sports Park, and the temporary storage shed constructed by the ASA Blaze. This is the non-regulation sized field the Blaze most often uses at the All Sports Park.

grantspass5.gif: Broken, splintered bleachers at Field Two at the All Sports Park.

grantspass6.gif: Corporate sponsors advertise on the fields where the Blaze play, but Little League, rather than the Blaze, keeps all the proceeds. Similarly, while there are scoreboards on these fields, Little League does not permit the Blaze to use them.

grantspass7.gif: The Babe Ruth Field, used only by the boys’ baseball team, with corporate sponsorship on the outfield fencing. In the distance, the American Legion Field grandstand is visible.

grantspass8.gif: The American Legion Field, the highest quality field in the City’s system, which is used only by the boys’ baseball team, is enclosed by a nine foot fence. No one other than the American Legion team is allowed access to this field. Because the field is fenced, the team can charge admission to its games.

grantspass9.gif: The American Legion Field, with corporate sponsorship on the outside fencing and a working electronic scoreboard.

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