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Army Messes With the Wrong Girls

LOS ANGELES (CN) - The Army and its Corps of Engineers discriminate against girls by refusing to allow them to play softball on public fields reserved for boys baseball, a girls softball team claims in Federal Court.

Members of the "Brick Dust" softball team sued Encino Franklin Fields, Mid Valley Youth Baseball Inc. and the Department of the Army and the Army Corps of Engineers, seeking equal access to the fields, declaratory judgment, and damages for gender discrimination, denial of equal protection, and other civil rights violations.

Lead plaintiff Katherine Ann Swander, 13, of Sherman Oaks, is joined by her sister Louise and teammates Shayna Slade and sisters Mika Jeffries and Lola Jeffries as plaintiff-members of the all-girl Encino Sherman Oaks Girls Softball league.

The girls say that Encino Franklin Fields, which pays a $1 year to the federal government to lease and manage nine fields, lets girls play on three of them, one of which is fit only for the league's youngest girls.

"The fields available to ESO players are inferior to the rest of the fields, in poor shape, deteriorating and unsafe," the 18-page lawsuit states.

Swander says the team is forced to warm up close to a busy parking lot and sometimes have to hop the fence of an adjoining, unused baseball field to prepare for their game.

"In fact, they are surrounded by empty fields they cannot use, because those fields are reserved for boys' baseball," the complaint states.

"The scene is often chaotic, crowded and unsafe in the parking lot and along the entrances to the field itself."

Parents and kids cram into two small fields every Sunday. So that all the girls can play, officials impose strict time limits on games that start at 8 a.m. and finish after dark.

"All the while, empty, unused boys' baseball fields surround the two full dedicated girls' softball fields," the complaint states. "Even the youngest girls in the softball league can see this is unfair."

Even though Franklin Fields leases nine fields to Mid Valley Youth Baseball, most of the time they remain unused, Swander says.

Franklin Fields told the softball league that Mid Valley is guaranteed use of the fields under its lease, according to the lawsuit.

But the girls softball league claims that a lease between the Corps of Engineers and Franklin Field, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, states that Franklin Fields is prohibited from discriminating on the basis of gender.

Though the girls softball league made their case to Col. Kimberly Colloton, the Army refused to weigh in on the dispute, Swander says.

The league petitioned Congressman Brad Sherman and the local Los Angeles City Council District but Mid Valley refused to yield, she claims.

Mid Valley offered only "either a single small field (that would not accommodate girls over 8 years old) or a part-time sharing arrangement with another field, but that would not have addressed ESO's need for equal space." (Parentheses in complaint.)

Swander says Mid Valley is ducking a charge of gender discrimination by forming a girls' baseball league.

"This is a cynical ploy by MVYB [Mid Valley Youth Baseball] to show it does not discriminate against girls," the complaint states.

The chances of a girls baseball league taking off are remote, Swander says, and only 12 girls have signed up for the league.

While boys play ball on smooth, clearly marked fields with concession stands, bleachers, batting cages, dugouts, bullpens and bleachers, the girls are made to play on inferior, unsafe fields, the complaint states.

Not only that, Swander says, the girls softball league spends money maintaining fields when it could use the money to expand the league. It has to sublease the fields to local high schools to prevent the league from folding, the teenager says.

"This in turn puts additional strain on the facilities and forces ESO to share its already crowded space with even more girls," the lawsuit states. "There are no fields reserved solely for high school girls' softball, though there are fields reserved solely for high school boys' baseball."

The girls are represented by Larry Slade of Sherman Oaks.

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