Softball facility is subject of Title IX complaint at Homewood-Flossmoor

Story Image Varisty women'ssoftball field at Homewood-Flossmoor High School. | Larry Ruehl~Sun-Times Media

H-F may not
be alone

Homewood-Flossmoor High School is being investigated by the Office for Civil Rights in response to a Title IX complaint that the school discriminates against its female athletes. The complaint cites amenities the baseball team has that the softball team doesn’t, including lights, a press box, a concession stand, the quality of bleachers and backstop.

Several area schools have field differences similar to those outlined in the H-F complaint.

Those include:

Bolingbrook: Baseball field has a press box and cinder block dugouts, softball field does not.

Lockport: Baseball field has lights; softball does not.

All public schools, by law, are required to have a Title IX coordinator to field questions about the school’s compliance. Should you have a complaint and the school doesn’t have a Title IX coordinator, contact the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Education or (312) 730-1560.

Story Image

Updated: July 11, 2012 3:32PM

Homewood-Flossmoor High School’s softball field is fenced in, with nice brick dugouts and an electronic scoreboard — maybe not state-of-the-art, but not bad at first blush.

But the SouthtownStar has learned a pending civil rights complaint against the school claims those amenities aren’t enough, not in comparison with the boys baseball field next door, which seems more like a stadium than a high school ballfield.

The field, where the school’s baseball team plays, has a press box, sound system and a concession stand. And lights for night games.

Such inequities between facilities for girls and boys teams are widespread throughout the Southland, said Bob Carpenter, a retired coach who filed the complaint against Homewood-Flossmoor.

“I came from a Mid-Suburban League conference in the northwest suburbs, where these things weren’t issues,” said Carpenter, a retired baseball, basketball and football coach who keeps the scorebook for the Vikings’ softball squad.

“This is my third year watching softball here, and I’m absolutely amazed and appalled at some of these sites.”

Carpenter filed a Title IX complaint June 6 with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, alleging discrimination on the basis of sex.

The OCR agreed to take the case, and is working with Homewood-Flossmoor to determine if changes, according to Title IX statutes, will be required.

Homewood-Flossmoor is the only area school being investigated for alleged Title IX violations. But will it be the last?

A review of other high school facilities found that, with similar differences between girls and boys athletic programs elsewhere, Homewood-Flossmoor is not alone.

Lockport’s softball team has a press box, sound system and concession stand. But the only night games are played about 50 yards away, at the baseball field.

Richards’ softball field, built by parents and once called a “Field of Dreams” by Bulldogs coach Julie Folliard, was a dramatic change from playing at the local park district. But it still pales in comparison to the baseball stadium-like digs the boys have.

Stagg’s girls basketball team didn’t play a single prime-time Friday night home game during the 2011-12 season. Neither did Bloom. Nor Rich East.

Why not?

Many female high school athletes don’t even know that, because of Title IX they have a right to the same amount of lockers as the boys, equal access to the main gym for practices and games, a chance to equally share the high school sports limelight.

But many are just happy to play. They don’t complain.

Then again, should they have to? It has been 40 years, hasn’t it?

“I used to actually feel sorry for the schools (facing complaints), right around Year 25, 30. But 40 years, and you still have big differences in your stadiums? You know, that’s gone,” said Nancy Hogshead-Makar, a tenured professor at the Florida Coastal School of Law and the senior director of advocacy for the Women’s Sports Foundation.

“(Women in sports) still have a long way to go. Women lag behind men in every measurable criteria. There is a stubborn gap between boys and girls that remains.”

Sometimes it takes a case like H-F’s to help close the gap — for its students and those at other schools who might learn from H-F’s example.

“This is not a hard case at all,” Hogshead-Makar said. “It’s not ‘he said, she said.’ It’s what the law requires. This is old news that should have been dealt with 25 years ago.

“It’s not groundbreaking, but there’s nothing like a successful complaint to make other people recognize that (inequities) should not be the status quo. We need to make sure that boys and girls are getting the same kinds of quality experiences.”

Softball ‘fitted in’

Carpenter coached baseball, football and boys basketball at Barrington High School before becoming the school’s athletic director for 19 years. He has two grandchildren who play sports at H-F.

A volunteer scorekeeper for the softball team for three years, Carpenter said that while his complaint with the OCR deals with H-F and its field, the south suburbs in general are lacking in comfortable softball facilities compared with the baseball diamonds.

Among the schools where Carpenter sees softball facilities lagging behind baseball are Tinley Park (no lights, no tarp, no warning track, lesser backstop and bleachers), Richards (no press box, field not enclosed), Lockport (no lights), Sandburg (no press box) and Bolingbrook (no press box, no cinder block dugouts).

“This is a softball mecca,” he said. “Softball, south of I-80, is softball. How is this happening?”

His complaint against H-F centers around the lack of lights and a press box, and that the girls don’t have the same quality of bleachers or backstop as the baseball team.

“I’d like for them to treat it like they treat baseball,” he said. “I’d like for them to have (equal) equipment and uniforms. And if there is an announcer at all of the boys games, why isn’t there one at the girls games?

“You don’t see a girls basketball game there that doesn’t have an announcer. They do it right (at H-F) in many areas. But softball, like at a lot of schools, is just kind of fitted in.”

Title IX guidelines do not require that similar teams such as baseball and softball be mirror images facility-wise, but that the overall boys and girls athletic programs receive the same level of treatment.

Jodi Bryant, the director of human resources and Title IX coordinator at H-F, said that the school rents the baseball field, which is owned by a local group called Friends of Homewood-Flossmoor Baseball.

“When you look at it from the outside, yes, (the baseball program) does have lights, does have a press box. But it’s a complicated story,” she said. “Then again, maybe the question of why isn’t the issue. It’s just that it is different. And if it does look different, then we need to address it.”

If during its fact-finding investigation the Office of Civil Rights determines the school needs to make upgrades to the softball field and H-F declines to do so, the school could lose its federal funding, which in the 2009-10 school year represented $2.8 million of its $54.2 million budget.

Bryant said the school has no intention of shirking its duty, if softball upgrades are required.

“I believe that both sides are going to sit down and come up with a situation that works for everybody,” she said. “We would have to find revenue within our school budget. We want to do whatever we need to do to be in compliance and meet the needs of all of our athletes.”

Title IX complaints have been successful in the southwest suburbs. In 1997, Rich Piatchek’s first year as AD at Andrew, the school was challenged over locker room space.

“We had a football locker, which is bigger for the football gear,” he said. “The girls didn’t have a football locker in their locker room.

“OCR came in and said, ‘You have to make sure the girls have the equal locker space as boys.’ So the girls got a locker in the hallway, also. We started noticing they only used the ones in the hallway. They never went in the locker room.”

Numbers gap

When Title IX was signed into law on June 23, 1972, high school girls sports sprang to life. By 1976, girls in Illinois were competing in 10 different sports. Today, more than 3.6 million girls play high school sports across the nation, compared with fewer than 300,000 in 1972.

However, the numbers are still not equal. According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, only 41 percent of all high school athletes are female. More than 1 million fewer girls play sports than do boys.

“It doesn’t surprise me, but it does disturb me,” Hogshead-Makar said. “Most schools are offering the same number of sports for boys and girls. But the sports that are offered for the boys are the biggest-rostered sports. If they offered two or three more sports for girls, I promise you they would fill up. They always do.”

Hogshead-Makar is convinced that if schools offered a wider variety of sports and were aggressive in promoting them, the girls who gave up on one sport would sign up for another.

“Interest is dictated by opportunity,” she said. “Right now they’re making up sports like competitive cheerleading, flag football. It really doesn’t matter what sport you create or what sport is offered. If you look at the Olympic program, the sports they offer are very diverse and offer lots of opportunities.

“(High school sports) is becoming more of a weed-out system rather than an opt-in system. There should be a place for kids who are already obese who cannot afford private lessons or playing on a club team prior to high school. There should be a place for them.

“They shouldn’t need to be so skilled. If you build it, they will come.”

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