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April 10, 2013 - 3:31pm

Section V officials unsure why there is an issue with girls softball field in Batavia

posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, sports, high school sports, softball.

A lawsuit filed on behalf of three Batavia High School softball players alleges that the varsity softball field there is substandard, but Section V officials and area softball coaches say the field isn't anything out of the ordinary.

Yes, it's not Dwyer Stadium, where the boys play baseball, but no coach has ever complained about the facilities at BHS, according to Bob Huber, chairman of the Section V girls softball committee.

In fact, the BHS has been used previously for neutral-ground games during early Section V playoff rounds.

Representing the girls in the suit is the Empire Justice Center out of Rochester.

The suit alleges a violation of Title IX, a federal law in place since 1972 mandating equal opportunity in public school sports.

According to the suit, the girls have been denied their rights under Title IX because the girl's softball field is not comparable to Dwyer Stadium.

Dwyer was built nearly 20 years ago at a cost of $3 million, which was financed by state grants and a city bond. The school district did not participate in its construction or financing.

The Batavia Muckdogs, a short-season Class A team affiliated with the Miami Marlins and owned primarily by the community, plays at Dwyer from June to September. During the spring, the field is open to high school and college teams.

For high school games, the Muckdogs collect $175 per game (Notre Dame plays at Dwyer as well).

Muckdogs General Manager Travis Sick said the $175 fee barely covers the cost of making the field available to high school teams.

"It's a community service and the city owns the stadium," Sick said. "We're happy to make it available."

The suit says the facilities are unequal because the girls field doesn't have 2,200 covered grandstand seats, nor lightning for night games, a ticket booth, an outfield fence, an electronic scoreboard, press box, covered dugouts, concession stand and bullpens.

Of course, the boys don't use all those amenities at Dwyer. Typically, fewer than 200 people attend a high school game.

CORRECTION: Only Notre Dame boys play night games at Dwyer -- twice a year.

But no high school games involve selling tickets and the concession stands are never open during high school games.

Dwyer is also one of the most cavernous professional stadiums around with 330 feet from home plate down each line. Few high school players can hit a home run over Dwyer's 12-foot-high outfield walls.

The suit alleges the girls playing at BHS can't hit-out-of-the-park home runs because there is no fence.

There is no fence at BHS because the outfield overlaps with a soccer field.

Also, according to the suit the "infield is covered with pebble-sized gravel mixed with some dirt, making it dangerous and painful for players to slide."

Ron Funke, athletic director and girls softball coach with Pembroke HS, and a member of the Section V committee, said the Batavia field is the same quality typical not only of girls fields, but boys fields, throughout Section V.

It's a special infield mix commonly used on softball and baseball fields, he said.

The suit states, "The infield material makes it harder for the players to play at their most competitive level and has given them a reputation in their league for having the worst field."

But both Funke and Huber said they've never heard complaints about Batavia's field and Funke said he thinks it's a fine place to play.

Funke indicated he was a little baffled by the suit.

"I don't know where else they'd play," Funke said. "There isn’t anything for softball other than GCC and there isn’t another facility like Dwyer for the girls to play in, and GCC has their own games to play."

The school distirct did manage to schedule four of the girls' 11 home games this season at GCC.

But even GCC's field doesn't have the amenities of Dwyer.

We called the Empire Justice center to respond to some of these issues, but the attorney handling the case is not giving interviews. We were told the center would issue a written statement for all media at a later time.

While the suit alleges that many girls fields in "the league" have fences, dugouts and seating, both Huber and Funke said it's really a mixed bag. There are several teams without fences, they said.

Both said there are also some boys' teams in Section V that play on fields without dugouts and bullpens.

The suit has multiple paragraphs covering the lack of night lightning for girls softball, noting that night games "have a big-league quality not associated with day games."

There are never night high school games played at Dwyer because night lighting is expensive.

The school district included proposed upgrades to the girls' field as part of a bond measure rejected by voters in 2011, and are including $110,000 in funding for upgrades in a bond measure that will go before voters next month.

School officials say, and the suit acknowledges, that Empire Justice attorneys were aware of the proposed bond measure before filing the lawsuit.

The suit complains that if the bond passes, improvements will only cover dugouts, scoreboard and a fence, and that the changes won't take place prior to the 2013 season.

The students named as plaintiffs in the suit are Rebecca Myers, 14, who's a student at Batavia Middle School, Elizabeth Myers, 17, a junior and captain of the team, and Kimberly Walsh, 17 and a senior.

The class-action suit seeks relief for all current and future girl softball players at BHS.

Currently, the school has no JV softball team because of a lack of participating students. In order to field a team for the 2013 season, the team includes two seventh-grade students and one eighth-grade student.

Asked if he was concerned that the district could go to the expense of upgrading the facilities and dealing with the lawsuit only to find that in a season or two, there will be no softball team due to lack of participation, Superintendent Chris Dailey said he is not concerned.

Asked if the district has considered moving the boys out of Dwyer and to one of the district's three baseball fields, Dailey said, "We're always thinking."

Dailey said he doesn't have an estimate yet on how much it will cost the district to respond to the suit.

If the cost of upgrades to the softball field is $110,000, the district will take nearly 45 years at $175 per game to pay $110,000 for the boys to play at Dwyer.

Mark Potwora
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According to the suit, the girls have been denied their rights under Title IX because the girl's softball field is not comparable to Dwyer Stadium....That is unreal..What a waste of time suing over this.. This is all about one group renting out a stadium to play in an another not....They can go play on a field at GCC...Why are we voting on money to improve this field that Section V officials aren't sure there is anything wrong with..

Mark Brudz
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Title IX has been the demise of many a college and HS sports programs across the nation, just another well intentioned regulation that has tremendous unintended consequences.

Another perfect example as to why we should resist Top Down Government at all cost and push for Bottom Up (Local Priority) Government.

Personally, I believe that the parent's who filed this suit have brought shame to our community, which BTW, I believe is one of the best places in the State Of New York to live.

Kelly Hansen
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I rarely vote on the school budget, but I am inclined to be certain to do so this time. I agree with Mark - this lawsuit is shameful. After reading the latest chapter in the saga, the situation has only become more embarrassing. The intended lesson for those three young girls does not match up to the education they are receiving now by having their names attached to such frivolity.

John Roach
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Don't blame the girls, blame the parents.

Kelly Hansen
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By the way, there was a rally for education - both private and public - in Buffalo today. 10,000 students (Notre Dame students attended), parents, administrators and faculty were there to support a bill that will encourage PRIVATE donations to both public and private schools. If the girls had parents who encouraged them to go to the board with their concerns, the girls could have presented the information to the tax payers about their field, and maybe - just maybe - we could have had a brand new softball field sponsored by local businesses sometime in the coming year. Learn more about the bill at www.investined.org

Mark Brudz
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The mission of The Empire Law Center, according to their website is;

"To protect and strengthen the legal rights of people in New York State who are poor, disabled or disenfranchised through: systems change advocacy, training and support to other advocates and organizations, and high quality direct civil legal representation."

Is it just me, or is this beginning to sound like publicity
seeking by the Law Center?

John Roach
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Maybe publicity seeking by the parents and the Law Center?

Bob Harker
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This is indicative of our overly litigious society,

Statement from Empire Justice Center:

On April 5, 2013 Empire Justice Center filed a class action suit against Batavia City School District on behalf of three female softball players and their families, alleging wide disparities in treatment between girls’ softball and boys’ baseball. Title IX forbids all federally funded entities from discriminating on the basis of sex. We are proud of the girls and their families for joining the ranks of so many brave Title IX plaintiffs over the course of history who have stood up for their civil rights and helped to level the playing field for women in sports. In the words of one federal judge in another Title IX case, “[e]ach day these inequalities go unredressed, the members of the girls’ softball team, prospective members, students, faculty and the community at large, are sent a clear message that girls’ high school varsity softball is not as worthy as boys’ high school varsity baseball, i.e. that girls are not as important as boys.”

While we must refrain from commenting on the merits of pending litigation, we would like to make clear that had the Batavia School District agreed to commit to any concrete plans to remedy the inequities between girls’ softball and boys’ baseball by a specific date, there would have been no need for a lawsuit. As soon as the district makes a binding commitment, the case will be resolved.

As stated in the complaint, the Plaintiffs do not ask to take anything from their male classmates; nor are the girls asking for their own Dwyer Stadium (a request that they recognize would not be feasible). They are fans of the boys’ team and will continue to show their support by attending Blue Devils games at Dwyer regardless of the outcome of the case. They simply want equitable facilities to play on, as well as recognition that their athletic endeavors are as worthy as those of their male classmates.

David Horning
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Title IX has been destroying mens amateur sports since its passage......

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