Letter: Looking For Fairness & Equality in Youth Sports
To the Editor:
It is the bottom of the 7th inning with runners on second and third. The score is tied. The pitcher looks for the sign, gets ready to pitch while the crowd grows silent with anticipation.
If you are like most, when you read this description, you think of baseball, whether it be Little League or Major League. This pastime has become so ingrained in our national identity that you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who couldn't remember a time either playing or watching someone play. However, for me, I think of something different.
I am the proud parent of a 12-year-old girl who plays 12U travel fast-pitch softball for the Berkshire Blaze. I immediately picture the excitement and speed with which the game is played, as well as the awe I experience when watching the skill demonstrated by all of the girls, regardless of the team they are playing for. Some of these young pitchers are pitching at speeds of up to 60-plus mph and there is no lull in the action. If you have never watched a girls fast pitch softball game, I encourage you to so. You will not be disappointed.
While there are many fine travel softball teams in the county, my daughter has found a strong connection with the coaches and the other girls on the Blaze. I have watched her blossom as a player and her confidence grow as an individual. This experience has had an impact on many other areas for her beyond her "softball" world. The manner of instruction, the enthusiasm and ability to develop strong community by these coaches is what youth sports should embody.
The Berkshire Blaze had been in existence previously and was re-formed just this past year. The difficulty the team faced was finding a consistent place to practice. Not being part of Pittsfield girls softball meant that using the Doyle fields was challenging. They practiced multiple times a week using the varsity field at PHS when the PHS team wasn't using it or when other teams were not there; this includes some of the house and recreational teams from Pittsfield. As a community field, it is first come, first serve.
The team was able to make it through its first season but the coaches, eager to continue what they started, offered to run their own version of fall ball. The age range increased as did the number of kids. Fall ball had players for both the 14U and 12U age range.
However, again, field availability was an issue. They stumbled on a possible solution. There is purpose-built softball field on Newell Street in Pittsfield, called Lakewood Park. This field, though, had not been used for softball in some time and was being used as a practice field for Little League. After some negotiation and because of the time of year, they were given permission by the Parks Department to use the field for the fall, but it was in rough shape. There were no bases, there was a pitcher's mound that needed to be taken out, it was a mess. Thankfully, with the help of a large number of volunteers as well as generous donations of material (dirt and other miscellaneous items) and the coach's personal expense, the field was renewed. Benches were rebuilt and upgraded, bases were purchased, it was lined and the team was able to hold a weekend series of games there. Quite a feat for such a humble little group.
As we approach the spring, these coaches are looking to have three teams of girls who are ready to play, 18U, 14U and 12U. The thing that is holding them up is field availability. They have spoken with the Parks Department and the commissioner, who supports their effort to use the Lakewood Field as it was designed. The issue was raised at the last Parks Commission meeting as potential new business, however, two of the five members of the commission, who are involved in Little League, did not seem to warm to the idea of moving their practices to another field. There will be a springtime allocation meeting on Feb. 12 that is attended by representatives of the various sports in the city. The Berkshire Blaze has submitted its request to get this field at Lakewood Park given back to the girls.
The coaches recently did a count on the number of baseball fields in Pittsfield and there are at least 20 fields with four batting cages on top of that. Softball has five fields in the city, if you count PHS varsity field, and one batting cage. If you add Lakewood into that mix it would make six softball fields. Out of the 20 backstops for baseball, at least three are not being used. These include Egremont School, Somerset Park and Osceola Park. There may be others. It's been reported that Little League is reluctant to give up this practice field for the girls to use full time because practice at Belanger and Deming fields (both Little League) would not preserve the grass for the games. This is a luxury no other sport has, including girls softball.
I work at a school and in that school; we focus on different character traits throughout the year with our students. This month's character trait coincidentally is fairness. We often teach that fair does not mean equal. While I would like there to be equality here I would hope that the Parks Department would support fairness. As a parent, I expect it. The dictionary definition of fairness is impartial and just treatment or behavior without favoritism or discrimination. I am hard pressed to see how 20 fields for Little League and 5 for softball in the city of Pittsfield is fair especially when you consider that there are 3 fields that are designed for baseball that Little League could be practicing on and instead they choose to take the purpose built softball field thus preventing the girls access. I am trusting that this was only done because for a few years it wasn't needed and it was “convenient” in terms of travel distance and not done because they would rather keep the girls from having a place to play rather than move their practices. I would hope that such a discriminatory attitude does not exist either on the Park Commission or in Little League.
The fact is that the number of girls playing softball is on the rise. As of last count there are not that many more boys playing baseball than girls playing softball. Doing the math, with just over 500 boys playing baseball and almost 400 girls playing softball; that is roughly one baseball field for every 25 boys versus 1 softball field for every 100 girls. That just does not seem fair to me. The need and time for that field to be given back the girls is now. I hope that the Parks Department has the courage to make that decision and tell Little League, "We are sorry but there are other places you can practice" or that Little League pre-empts that by withdrawing its request to use that field altogether. I am not looking to take anything away from the boys and their experience. As a child, I vividly remember my days playing Little League, the fun I had and the friendships I developed. I also remember how those early experiences in sports helped shape me as an individual. My real hope is that my daughter has the same opportunities I had and that I do not have to tell her that several men believed girl's sports are not as deserving as the boys.
Please allow the Berkshire Blaze to use the Lakewood Park field as it was intended, as a softball field.
Friedman is a parent of a Berkshire Blaze 12U player