By MARINA WATERS
County officials recently discussed a request for updated lighting at David Crockett High School’s softball field. For now, the project has been left in the dark, but it could result in a Title IX violation.
Title IX is a civil rights law that requires both male and females are given “equitable opportunities to participate in sports.” This includes equal opportunities in areas such as equipment and supplies, scheduling of games and practice time, and practice and competitive facilities. The issue in regards to Title IX requirements and Crockett’s softball field lights is that the neighboring Pioneer baseball field is well-lit, while the softball field lighting is, as Interim Director of Schools Bill Flanary told county officials, lacking in comparison.
“The current lights are just not sufficient,” Flanary said at the Aug. 9 Health, Education and Welfare Committee meeting. “More importantly, the boys baseball field is well-lit.”
Currently there are six poles placed around the field to light the Crockett softball diamond for late afternoon and night games. However, the school system’s maintenance supervisor, Phillip Patrick, confirmed that the lights are outdated and would require new poles and fixtures — with a price tag of $150,000 — in order to properly light the field.
“It’s not lit to the level that the men’s baseball field is and mainly because of the type of lighting it is,” Patrick said. “It’s the old mercury vapor lamps. We can’t even buy fixtures for them anymore.”
Patrick said the Lady Pioneer Softball Team currently schedules two to three night games a season. While they hope to add more night games to their 2019 schedule with adequate lighting, the Crockett team said they’re left working with what they have.
“Every year we start the season, we have at least 20 or more lights out of about 40 that have to be replaced,” Crockett Head Softball Coach Carla Weems said. “Even when they get them all working, the lighting is still very bad and the girls have trouble seeing the ball. I hope, for the girls’ sake, we get them.”
However, the county is holding off on the project.
The Washington County Health, Education and Welfare Committee’s split 2-2 vote on the $150,000 request left the call for updates at a standstill this month, while budget committee members put the request’s approval on hold.
The lighting project was included along with other requests listed in the school system’s newly drafted maintenance plan for the 2018-2019 school year. However, approval and funding from the Washington County Commission is required in order for any of the school system’s projects to go into effect.
School officials presented the request to the two county committees, with Patrick explaining that if someone calls the Office of Civil Rights Regional Office in Atlanta, Georgia, “that’s when it becomes an issue.”
However, Flanary told the Herald & Tribune that as of Aug. 16, the school system has had no communication with any state or federal agency regarding a civil rights issue and Crockett’s softball field lighting.
At the county’s budget meeting, Mayor-Elect Joe Grandy said he acknowledged the call for equity within the athletic program, but said he wanted to get more out of the field improvements.
“A $150,000 investment, to me, doesn’t seem to make sense,” Grandy, who is also the budget committee chairman, said. “I’m not trying to minimize the Title IX issue. That’s really important that we do everything (required) there. It certainly is about covering the legal basis, but if it’s the right thing to do for equity, then I think we should do it.
“It’s just that for a very few number of meetings per season, it seems to me that this takes a long time to get our value out of that project unless you can use the field differently and expand the use of it. These are the questions I sort of have on this.”
Commissioner Todd Hensley asked if softball games could be played on the baseball field. Patrick said Ridgeview Elementary and Grandview Elementary currently adapt their fields for baseball and softball use. However, he said temporary fencing would have to be installed at the Crockett baseball field, should it be adapted for softball. He also added that softball requires a different mound.
Meanwhile, Commissioner Tom Krieger said he felt that talk of a potential Title IX violation seemed to suddenly pop up. He also asked if the money for the project could come from another fund, rather than the capital projects fund.
“This Title IX issue, that’s something that’s 28 or 29 years old and we’ve set there for years with that field like it is,” Krieger said. “And it wasn’t on the (previous) five-year plan. All of the sudden it came out of nowhere. I don’t know if there’s a rumbling of something that’s going to happen from a Title IX suit or something.
“But I also wonder if (the $150,000) can’t come out of an existing budget rather than additional money from the commission, from their capital plan. Those capital dollars are going to be so critical as we look towards these other schools.”