Recent changes instituted by the Lake Oswego School District in response to a Title IX lawsuit have further restricted limited practice time and field space for Lake Oswego High School softball and baseball players, attorney Andrew Glascock said this week.
"What (the district) did by making everyone use (one) field," Glascock told The Review on Tuesday, "is that they've taken a bunch of time away from baseball — and not just baseball in high school, but the junior baseball organization."
Glascock, who represents the Lake Oswego High School softball team in an ongoing Title IX lawsuit against the district, was one of about 100 people who attended a Lake Oswego School Board meeting Monday night. The impassioned crowd filled the conference room in the district's Administration Building, flowed into the lobby and out into the parking lot, applauding and cheering as commenters spoke.
Glascock didn't testify, but players in athletics attire and parents took turns criticizing district decisions that require baseball players to share their field and batting cage with softball players and replaced the field's dirt mound with a removable plastic alternative.
Those changes were not on the School Board's agenda, but the baseball and softball teams agreed in advance to come together Monday night to challenge the district's approach to achieving more equal access to facilities and equipment for female softball players and male baseball players.
"The field is a sacred ground," baseball player Alex Vlaisavich told the board. "The alterations have not only made a mockery of this, but they also have made it unsafe for us to play."
Vlaisavich wrote one of three articles published Feb. 21 in the school's Lake Views newspaper about the field dispute. (One of the articles was an opinion letter previously published in The Review.) His parents, Diane and George, said those articles helped mobilize them and the community to approach the School Board on Monday.
Problems with the exchange
The decision earlier this year to make the on-campus LOHS stadium a shared field came in response to a Title IX lawsuit filed in April 2016. The Title IX lawsuit claims that female softball players have been denied equal access to the kinds of equipment and facilities that male baseball players have, such as a batting cage and a field with artificial turf that can be used even on rainy days.
Title IX, a federal law passed in 1972, prohibits discrimination based on sex "under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance."
In December, the softball team's attorneys sought class-action status for the lawsuit. If federal Magistrate Judge Stacie Beckerman approves the motion, the 10 original plaintiffs could be joined by every female student at LOHS. There has been no decision on the motion yet, Glascock said.
In January, the LOSD decided to open the baseball field at LOHS to female and male athletes from a variety of sports. The field, which was previously used by baseball, lacrosse, cross-country, soccer and football players, is now available to softball as well, Anders said.
Mike Musick, the LOSD's Title IX coordinator, told The Review last month that softball and baseball teams will now have equal access to the turf field and an on-campus hitting facility. A practice and game schedule that allows all teams to share the athletic facilities has already been finalized, he said.
As a result, three baseball teams are currently sharing the field with the softball team. This spring, the girls will practice from 3-5:45 p.m., and the boys teams — varsity, junior varsity and freshman baseball — will practice from 6-8 p.m. Changes to the field itself — including a portable fence, movable bases and the new mound — have also been made to accommodate softball and baseball.
Musick, who is also the district's executive director of school management, said the district is now considering its next steps.
"We're seeking direction from legal counsel on our next steps," he said, and preferred not to comment further.
But some of those changes are problematic because of safety and team pride, head baseball coach Jake Anders, Glascock and parents said.
Anders said the boys simply have to practice late into the night now to make up for the lost time on their field. He said he's worked hard to build up the LOHS baseball program in the past 19 years.
"It's Lake Oswego, and we have a standard and we'd like to see those standards stay at the level they're at," said Anders, who's been a Three Rivers League coach for 21 years, at LOHS and Lakeridge
Glascock's concerned about hazards. For example, the space between bases is 60 feet for softball and 90 feet for baseball. To fill the holes made when softball bases are moved between practices, little plastic fillers are popped in — and those fillers are rounded and slippery, Glascock said. Anders said they're looking for flatter fillers.
John Laurent, whose son plays for LOHS, said someone could get hurt by the different equipment that's left on the field when the two sports play.
"I could see this becoming a bigger issue down the road if somebody does roll their ankle, especially given the heightened awareness of these issues right now," Laurent said.
Parent Diane Vlaisavich told The Review that replacement of the dirt mound with a removable one also causes problems because it is so heavy.
"It took a crane and seven grown men to move it," she said.
Anders said the district will not be having players move the 1,200-pound mound as some had thought the plan was, and it will be moved for the softball team before games.
Diane Vlaisavich said it's unrealistic requiring teams to move equipment, and the situation's not fair to softball either, which has to add a fence each time to set up its own perimeter.
"We want the girls to get a turf field and their own batting cage," she said, "and we want our field back."
Until now, the softball team used a dirt field at Lake Oswego Junior High School for games and practices. But LOJ is slated for replacement in Phase Two of a school bond measure that is scheduled to go before voters in 2021, so instead of investing in artificial turf on that field and adding a hitting facility to the site, the district opted to have baseball and softball teams share facilities on the LOHS campus.
That means the girls are now allowed to use the LOHS batting cage, Glascock said, but it takes away time from the Little League baseball teams that previously used the facility. In addition, he said, the dirt field at LOJ is still reserved for high school students, even though no one is using it. And that means children from youth softball and baseball programs can't use the field, Glascock said.
David Kavanaugh, a Lake Oswego resident and father of two, said all of the changes affect young players' opinions of the high school programs they hope to join one day. One of his children is involved in Lake Oswego Little League.
"We moved to this area specifically for Lake Oswego baseball," Kavanaugh told the School Board on Monday. "I have a son who has been dying to go to this school (LOHS) and play baseball. And today, as an eighth-grader, he's heart-broken. … We're now looking at another possibility of a school for him."
Lake Oswego Little League board member Bill Grimm, a father of three, told the School Board that Little League had given $5,000 to upgrade the batting cage at LOHS and can no longer use it without paying for their time.
"You're going to hurt the community, top to bottom," Grimm said.
Lake Oswego resident Michael Anders, who has a fifth-grade son in Little League, also testified that the changes are negatively impacting youth programs and are nothing more than a "band-aid" for a bigger problem.
"We've been spending money over the years and we've been paying taxes, and it's time the district and the City started putting money toward these facilities to have facilities for our youth," Anders told The Review after testifying before board.
Alex Vlaisavich's father, George, said he wants to sit down and discuss potential solutions to the athletics field problems with the School Board and softball players. He said that while the district may be involved in a lawsuit that limits what officials can say, they could have done some outreach.
"The community is hurting because the community was not involved in the solution, and I think we can create a solution," he said.