As ordered by US District Judge Ann Aiken, the City of Grants Pass, Oregon began mediations last week with members of the Blaze, its only girls’ selective fast-pitch softball league. Several months ago with the support of parents, coaches, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), six Blaze members “girls ranging from 9 to 17 years old” filed a federal court suit against the city alleging unequal access to its playing fields.
Every summer since opening in the mid-1990s, the two best ballparks (boasting scoreboards, loudspeakers, food stands, batting cages, and dugouts) in Grants Pass are reserved exclusively for the American Legion and Babe Ruth boy’s baseball teams. In contrast, the Blaze competes among 200 amateur softball and baseball teams for four mediocre fields, only one of which meets fast-pitch softball regulations including a shorter outfield. While city officials dismiss the case as an issue of high demand and low supply, Blaze founder and coach Clay Rounsville argues, “The city discriminates against girls when it gives boys’ baseball programs complete control over large parts of the city parks and doesn’t give girls’ softball anything even close to equivalent access.” The girls assert that limiting access to better facilities influences their quality of play as well as possible college scholarship opportunities.
In 1972, Congress passed Title IX, banning gender discrimination in educational programs receiving federal funding. While Title IX has been popular among lawsuits involving educational institutions and school districts, its application in suing cities is rare. Amateur Softball Association (ASA) Executive Director Ron Radigonda stated, “Most cities understand the problem and readily make the changes needed.” According to one of the girls’ attorneys on the Grants Pass case, Rocio Cordoba of the ACLU of Southern California, two lawsuits in Los Angeles County in 1998 and 2000 resulted in girls gaining better access to playing fields.