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Girl Athletes Want No Part of Rough Diamonds

Suit seeks equal access to new, $900,000 off-campus facilities available only to Alhambra High' s boys' baseball teams.

March 05, 2004|Joy Buchanan and Peter Yoon | Times Staff Writers

Lauren Cruz and her teammates on the Alhambra High School girls' softball team field grounders, catch pop flies and avoid potholes.

Cruz, who plays shortstop, said she doesn't understand why her team has to play on a school field that is bumpy and cluttered with trash, weeds, holes and gym equipment, while the boys' baseball teams play on a new off-campus field that cost $900,000.

"It's not fair," Cruz, 15, said. "I want the best opportunities so I can play in college."

On Thursday, the California Women's Law Center and the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center filed a class-action lawsuit against the city of Alhambra and the Alhambra School District on behalf of Cruz and three other female athletes. The suit contends that the school violated state and federal laws by making the new field, which is about five blocks from the school, available just for boys' teams.

"The girls of Alhambra deserve to play sports free of sex discrimination," said Nancy Solomon, senior staff attorney at the law center.

Solomon said the girls -- three softball players and one basketball player -- are not seeking monetary damages. Instead, they want use of the new fields, upgraded facilities for all girls' sports teams and equal playing opportunities for girls.

Their case is based on the state and federal constitutions' equal protection clauses and the federal Title IX rule that prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded programs.

School Principal Russell Lee-Sung, City Manager Julio Fuentes and school Supt. Julie Hadden declined to comment. City Atty. Joe Montes could not be reached.

The boys' baseball teams use the newly upgraded Moor Field on 8th Street.

The complex of two playing diamonds and a practice diamond is manicured and has automatic sprinklers, enclosed batting cages, electronic scoreboards, lights for night games and concessions stands.

The city of Alhambra provided the money for the new field so the city could use it for its recreation program, according to Lou Torres, Alhambra High's athletic director.

Before the baseball field renovation, the baseball coaches complained about the softball team having a better field, Torres said.

"The only money spent by the district on facilities in the last 10 years was on the softball fields," Torres said. "There were some jealousies from the baseball team when we put together the softball fields."

He declined to discuss the specifics of the lawsuit or the girls' claims.

The girls' field on campus has two abutting diamonds. Senior Valerie Herrera, 17, a softball centerfielder, said the varsity and junior varsity teams play at the same time. Herrera, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said that if a ball lands on the opposite diamond, both games stop until the ball is returned.

The softball team's former coach, Tom O'Dell, had contacted the legal groups about substandard conditions.

"From the beginning, the pecking order there was always varsity baseball, junior varsity baseball, freshman baseball, varsity softball, junior varsity softball," O'Dell said. "The girls were always at the bottom."

Cruz said she hoped something could be worked out.

"We female athletes should have the same athletic opportunities as the boys have here," she said. "People can see that sports are not just about boys."

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