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Valley Perspective

Are They Playing Ball or Playing Politics?

Solutions--and city-controlled fields--exist for girls' softball leagues. Displacing other youth from fields they have worked to upgrade is unnecessary.

November 08, 1998|JAMES K. HAHN | James K. Hahn is Los Angeles city attorney

My office is defending the city of Los Angeles against the ACLU lawsuit charging that the city discriminates against girls who want to play softball. Although it is highly unusual for me to comment outside the courtroom on matters involving pending litigation, I feel it is time the public heard the city's side of the story.

First, I invite every girl and boy in the city who wants to play softball in the 1999 spring / summer season to contact a local park director now to express interest. The city's Department of Recreation and Parks will do everything possible to accommodate you.

None of the programs operated or permitted by the city prohibit or discourage either sex from participating. The American Civil Liberties Union's assumption that these are boys' leagues undermines the historic events of 1974, during which the National Organization for Women fought to tear down the gender barrier in youth baseball. The truth of the matter is: Girls do play baseball. According to a survey conducted by the department, 22,830 baseball players participated in the department's 1998 baseball program. Of that number, 2,283 were girls. During that same period, 1,965 girls participated in the department's youth softball programs. Thus, 20,547 boys played in the department's baseball program, while 4,248 girls played in the department's softball and baseball programs; a five-to-one boy / girl ratio. Moreover, the permits the city issues to these youth leagues specifically prohibit gender discrimination and require the leagues to encourage girls to participate.

There are nine youth baseball leagues in the San Fernando Valley that have constructed, improved and maintained baseball facilities (on land merely owned or leased by the city) through the donations and volunteer efforts of private, nonprofit organizations and corporate sponsors. The city did not construct these facilities. It is not an exaggeration to state that the donations required to build, operate and maintain these successful programs have saved the city millions of dollars and have provided a valuable public service to tens of thousands of boys and girls and their parents.

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The irony is that the private West Valley Girls Softball League (WVGSL) would seek to displace other ball-playing youth so that WVGSL might permanently use the very facilities these other private organizations have worked so long and hard to improve. Again, these baseball leagues are not boys' leagues; 17% of the players are girls.

The ACLU also fails to take into account the numerous private softball organizations and private schools that compete with the department's programs for the pool of girls who choose to play softball, as well as the many other activities offered by the department itself in which girls may choose to participate instead of softball: aquatics (63% female participation), tennis classes / clinics (44%), volleyball classes / clinics (46%), gymnastics (78%), tumbling (61%), roller-blading (55%), self defense (63%), cheerleading / drill team (94%). In addition, the department offers youth programs in music, ballet, ice skating, jazz dance, arts and crafts, kids' cooking and soccer, among many other programs.

I believe there are better solutions, such as enabling softball players to play on other city-controlled fields they would be permitted to improve and maintain with their volunteer efforts, thereby putting them in a position similar to the baseball leagues they seek to displace. WVGSL has been offered a minimum of eight different fields in the West Valley upon which they could conduct their league. These fields are comparable to fields used by champion high school softball teams. Since they have declined to operate on the fields offered to them by the city and continue to press the lawsuit, I am left to conclude that WVGSL and the ACLU are less interested in finding a place for softball players to play than they are in proving they have a constitutional right to destroy successful youth baseball programs of long standing in the community.

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