Pickling for even ground

East County Little League parents go to bat to bring softball back to Schmid fields

This is a pickle nobody wanted to be a part of.

East County Little League softball parents are fighting to give their children an equal opportunity to play ball on the newest fields at George Schmid Memorial Park.

League president Kim Garner says there are two adequate softball fields at Bill Hamllik Park in Washougal and Goot Park in Camas. She also stated that the baseball fields at Schmid are the first ones the league has been able to use with grass infields.

“This has positively impacted our baseball teams, and the league as a whole. The only negative aspect is that softball teams have not been able to play there,” Garner said. “I do not feel there is a gender discrimination. There has never been a time when we have been short of fields.

“The quality of Goot and Hamllik are superior. They both drain well, and they both field well. In my opinion, they’re both beautiful parks,” she added. “We are very happy and appreciative to have fields available from the city and the school district, and we make the most of them.”

Softball parents say otherwise. They see boys taking advantage of the new facilities at the Schmid fields, and they are arguing that girls are not getting the same opportunity.

The Schmid complex was designed to become the new center of the league. There is plenty of parking, paved pathways connecting each field to the parking lot, covered dugouts with fenced bullpens, and aluminum benches for spectators on both the home and visitor sides.

Hamllik field offers one set of wooden bleachers. Unlike the concrete viewpoints at the Schmid fields, limited seating at Hamllik forces parents to line up folding chairs along the grass. When it rains, they are sitting in mud or puddles of water.

Goot Park has no dugouts or bullpens, just benches for the visiting and home teams to sit on. Those benches were damaged, but have been replaced. New bathrooms have been constructed next to the home bleachers. Both fields have limited parking, and Goot Park does not have an outfield fence.

“Our concern is that there is a $600,000 complex available to East County Little League, and softball is not being allowed to play there,” said concerned parent Kari Erdwins. “By playing softball on fields that don’t have the same amenities as the Schmid fields, in our eyes that is gender discrimination.”

While bringing these differences to light, parents came across a new gender equity law passed by the Washington State Human Rights Commission. According to Washington State law RCW 49.60.505, by Jan. 1, 2010, each city, town, county or district operating a community athletics program shall adopt a policy that specifically prohibits discrimination against any person on the basis of sex in the operation, conduct or administration of community athletics programs for youth and adults.

“The NCAA gender equity task force states that ‘gender equity is an atmosphere of fair distribution where the athletic program of one gender would be happy to play in the condition and facilities as the other gender,'” Erdwins said. “That has been our direction since day one. Whatever we do, the boys have to be happy and the girls have to be happy. It has to be fair for all.”

“It has never been our intention to take a field away from the boys,” said parent Cynthia Davies. “We just want softball to be given a chance to play at Schmid. Just fit us in somewhere. That’s all we’re asking.”

The design plan at Schmid Memorial Park includes a softball field, but Washougal city and school officials have hit a financial snag. According to Washougal Parks Facilities Manager Suzanne Bachelder, the cost to build the softball field, add restrooms and concession stands, and improve the neighboring streets and sidewalks is estimated at $1.5 million.

“Nobody anticipated that we wouldn’t be able to finish the softball field before we ran out of funding,” Garner said. “I think people saw this as an exciting project, and a joint effort between different parties. We all jumped right into it, and started to build some fields.”

In the meantime, city and school officials have been meeting with parents to brainstorm temporary solutions. Davies presented a letter from Washougal Mayor Sean Guard asking the league to remove the pitcher’s mound on Schmid Field One. The city and the district purchased a $3,000 portable mound. Baseball would be able to use the mound for their games, and then it would be removed for softball. The East County Little League Board of Directors voted against the idea.

“Baseball can play on a skinned field, but it’s not desirable. Softball can play on a grass field, but it’s not desirable. The major difference is softball does not play on a mound and baseball does,” Erdwins said. “That’s why a portable mound makes sense.”

The 2010 season has wrapped, but the pickle is still ongoing. Washougal School District Superintendent Teresa Baldwin said a resolution is in the works.

“There will be a meeting for concerned parents of East County Little League, school and city officials to attend,” she said. “Together, I am confident we will find a solution.”

Baldwin hopes to have the meeting before the end of August.

“The parents concern is well-founded,” Baldwin said. “There was no intent by the city or the school district to overlook this situation. The best solution we can imagine is to make sure the Schmid fields are accessible for both baseball and softball.”

The Schmid complex sits on land owned by the Washougal School District. Starting next season, Baldwin said the league will be required to have its field schedule approved by the school district before it can be set in stone.

“We’re revising our policy to make sure we do have approval of the schedule,” Baldwin said. “There wasn’t anything in place for that this year, and there needs to be.”

Parents will only accept one solution, and that is to see softball and baseball players getting an equal opportunity to play ball on the Schmid fields.

“We are going to continue to fight because it’s the right thing to do,” Davies said. “We dream of the day our girls will be able to play softball at Schmid, and hopefully that day will be next year.

“Instead of preparing for any sort of legal action, let’s all find a way to sit down and fix this,” she added. “We don’t know if we will take legal action if a resolution is not made by next year. We hope we don’t have to go that far. It shouldn’t have to go that far.”