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In Wake of Shootings, Girls Softball League Relocates Again

Sports: After gunfire erupts and two men are wounded near game in progress at Canoga High, parents decide to play future contests elsewhere.

May 05, 2000|SUE FOX and GREG RISLING | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

WOODLAND HILLS — Hours after gunfire sent dozens of girls diving for cover at a softball game, the nomadic West Valley Girls Softball League abandoned for good its part-time fields at Canoga Park High School.

Police, meanwhile, continued to search for the gunman who opened fire Wednesday evening on the campus handball court from across Hart Street, wounding two young men. They now believe an earlier fight in a nearby alley was unrelated to the attack.

By Thursday morning, a handful of fathers rattled by the shooting were mowing grass and lining the fields at Hughes Middle School, where the girls league has secured a six-month permit to play.

The shooting, they said, was the last straw. Two years ago, the league sued the city in federal court, alleging gender discrimination had left the girls to shuffle between shabby fields while boys enjoyed long-term rights to plush ball fields.

"This was the kicker," said Tom Scalisi, a Woodland Hills father whose 10-year-old daughter Christina plays in the league.

After the shooting, Scalisi took the day off from his job as a contractor to help prepare Hughes for an influx of young ballplayers. Instead of remodeling houses, he spent Thursday shoveling dirt around a makeshift pitcher's mound, dripping sweat under the sun.

"We just want to try to give the girls something decent to play on," he said.

For Edie Gartland, who was watching her stepdaughter Julia play softball when they heard the sharp pops they thought were firecrackers, the move to Hughes couldn't come soon enough.

"I think it'll make these little girls that were there really happy and really relieved," she said. "I mean, there was one girl who was screaming, 'I don't want to die.' My girls don't ever want to go back there."

Julia, 11, agreed. After the shots rang out, one of the wounded men staggered across the softball field, his leg smeared with blood, a friend helping him move.

"I was really scared," she said. "When the guys started running across the fields, I thought they had the gun."

The league's 500 girls have been playing this season at Canoga Park High and Shadow Ranch Park. They were planning to move to Hughes in coming weeks, said league president Dave Berman. But the shooting knocked those plans into high gear.

Although the eight grass fields at Hughes are completely overgrown, the site "will be dramatically safer," Berman said. "It's more of a closed environment."

Hughes, now used as an adult school and office space, is situated in a quiet residential neighborhood off Burbank Boulevard. In October, the league agreed to a tentative settlement with the city that promised them a five-year lease at Hughes.

That plan has since hit a snag. The Los Angeles United School District, facing a dramatic shortage of seats for a growing student population, has refused to sign off on the deal because it may reopen Hughes in two or three years.

For the moment, the city has granted the league a short-term permit for the softball fields as the lawyers continue to negotiate. If a settlement is not reached soon, said attorney Mark Rosenbaum of the American Civil Liberties Union, the league may go back to court.

Canoga Park High School Principal Denny Thompson said the shooting shocked the 1,900-member student body, most of whom live in the neighborhood.

"We are all like family here," Thompson said. "The kids are kind of upset because it portrays our school in a way that really isn't true."

Thompson said the school has encountered very few problems with students bringing weapons onto campus. However, he said the shooting was a wake-up call for school officials.

The handball court, in a corner of the campus next to Hart Street, will be closed for another week as school officials consider whether to relocate it. No arrests have been made in connection with the shooting and the weapon used has not been found, said Officer Michael Maldonado of the Los Angeles Police Department's West Valley Division.

Police are not sure what motivated the attack. The gunman is described as an African American man in his early 20s, 5 feet 7 and 145 pounds. He was last seen wearing a light-colored striped shirt and dark pants.

One shooting victim, a 19-year-old man who suffered a leg wound, was treated and released from a local hospital. The other victim, 22, is listed in good condition at Northridge Hospital Medical Center, where he is recovering from an abdominal gunshot wound.

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Fox is a Times staff writer; Risling is a Times Community News correspondent.

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