Tanya McCraw is upset that her daughter plays softball at Lexington High School on a field with problems that existed when she tried out for the team in 1992.
“The girls are still getting the short end of the stick,” McCraw said. “Out here, there’s real safety concerns.”
She is among a group of parents pressing for improvements, an effort that includes a federal Title IX complaint alleging the school has unequal sports facilities for its boys’ baseball and girls’ softball teams.
Lexington 1 school officials deny conditions at the 24-year-old field are dangerous and say minor problems recently called to their attention are being fixed.
A significant upgrade of the field would have to be included in a package of renovations and new facilities being developed, officials said. That may not happen until 2018 if school officials decide to ask voters for a property tax hike to pay for the projects.
Complaints about the softball field include:
▪ An uncovered storm drain in foul territory along the left field line on which players can trip and be injured.
▪ A backstop behind home plate that doesn’t protect fans from balls hit over it and lacks sufficient padding for players chasing errant throws and foul tips.
▪ An outfield with lighting dim in some sections and with divots left by bands that also practice there.
▪ A tiny dressing area that sometimes causes players to change in and out of their uniforms in cars parked nearby.
▪ Small dugouts with dirt floors for both the home and visiting teams that are muddy after heavy rain.
Some unhappy parents are current and former softball coaches elsewhere.
“I’ve never seen such disparate margins between boys’ and girls’ fields,” said Patrick Montgomery, a parent who is a former civil rights adviser for the U.S. Coast Guard. “There’s not enough respect for female athletes at that school.”
There are 508 boys playing 24 sports and 289 girls playing 21 sports at the school, officials say.
The field for the boys’ baseball team recently was updated with $1.5 million in features that include new dugouts, bleachers and backstop, paid for by savings from other construction projects. Players practice in an indoor facility built earlier with donations.
Parents of softball players say they aren’t trying to match that, but want better facilities for their daughters. “Our girls are not getting a fair shake,” Troy Shannon said. “It’s like they’re second-hand citizens.”
The complaint seeking an investigation of conditions by federal civil rights officials came after some parents said their push for improvements was met with indifference by district officials.
“We just want what’s fair,” said parent Sam Light, a construction equipment sales executive who made the complaint. “Everybody has accepted the status quo.”
Officials at Lexington 1 – its superintendent and four of seven school board members are women – insist attention is being paid to concerns they say were first received from parents of softball players a month ago.
Burnt-out lights have been replaced and mold in a concession stand is being removed, officials said. Plastic piping was put on top of fences to protect players pursuing fly balls, parents add.
“Some of the things that parents have asked about can be quickly done,” Lexington 1 spokeswoman Mary Beth Hill said. “Some of the things will have to wait until after the season ends.”
Hill didn’t spell out which repairs are short-term and which will take longer.
Games and practices don’t happen if coaches consider fields unsafe, she said.
Conditions are inspected daily by athletic staff, who are told to pass along problems discovered for correction, Hill said.
Other sports fields at the school have a storm drain, while the lights for softball meet standards for play, she said. School staff made drain covers for football and baseball.
The protest is focusing attention on long-ignored problems for softball, parents say.
“I don’t think we’re asking for anything unreasonable,” parent Chad Williams said. “I’ve got faith they (school officials) will do something right.”
Some parents want more, though, saying they’re ready to help raise money for an indoor training facility.
The outdoor facility available is unusable in storms and cold weather, parents say.
A separate facility is necessary to allow year-round training since efforts to share the one built for baseball haven’t worked, parents say.
Parents are determined to keep pushing school officials for improvements.
“Lexington High School will set an example or become an example,” Light said. “I want our school to be a winner, looking good in how they respond.”
Tim Flach: 803-771-8483
For more information
See frequency asked questions about Title IX and softball at Lexington High on Lexington 1’s website, at lexington1.net.
School sports inequalities top complaints
More than 60 percent – 3,609 of 5,845 – of complaints nationwide about gender-based inequality in schools concerned sports in the year ending Sept. 30, 2014, according to the latest report compiled by federal civil rights investigators at the U.S. Department of Education. Only 20 of those complaints were investigated, with many others settled informally, said.
Four Title IX complaints in South Carolina were resolved in that period after investigations, it said. The report doesn’t say if the complaints involved school athletics, when and where the complaints originated and how long the investigations took. No total on settlements is given.
State education officials don’t keep track of federal complaints against schools, spokesman Dino Teppara said.