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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, March 19, 2010

Softball players claim bias

By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer

U.S. District Judge David Ezra today will hear a motion for a temporary restraining order after three members of Baldwin High School's girls softball team filed a federal lawsuit against the state and Maui County yesterday alleging they are being discriminated against because of their gender.

The complaint accuses the defendants of "unfair discrimination against girls' athletics" by forcing them to play on an unsafe, nonregulation field that is operated by the county. The team, which has won the past three Maui Interscholastic League championships and the 2007 state title, was told in November it would have to move from the old playing field to the current location to make way for Little League, a private organization, the lawsuit said.

The plaintiffs claim that the only occupant of the old field is a pile of dirt and has not been used for baseball games. Meanwhile, the lawsuit said the softball team is using a field that is covered with rocks and holes, isn't regulation size and is a mile from the high school.

Ezra will hold a hearing on the motion for a temporary restraining order at 2 p.m. today.

The complaint and motion for a temporary restraining order were filed in U.S. District Court yesterday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawai'i and the law firm Alston Hunt Floyd and Ing. The plaintiffs included the players, who were listed in the complaint only by their initials, T.N., T.S., J.K., their parents, and team coach Joe Duran.

Named as defendants were the Department of Education; Maui County; and Baldwin High Principal Natalie Gonsalves and athletic director Kahai Shishido. Gonsalves and the DOE could not be reached for comment.

A Maui County spokeswoman said officials had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment. Shishido yesterday declined comment.

The distance from the school is a concern, the lawsuit said, because the players must walk through a wooded area to get to the field and because of recent reports of assaults and sexual assaults in the area.

Meanwhile, the lawsuit said, the Baldwin boys' baseball team plays and practices at the 1,500-seat Iron Maehara Stadium, which features batting cages, a "beautifully manicured field," air-conditioned press box, and "professional scoreboard."

Duran said he complained about the playing conditions and was threatened with being fired by Gonsalves and Shishido. But Duran said yesterday that he felt obligated to pursue the lawsuit.

"The field that the girls have to play on is unsafe. They are risking injury, losing valuable practice time and playing on a field that doesn't even have the right distance fence," he said. "I will not stand by and watch while the DOE and county crush these girls' hopes and dreams."

The lawsuit contends that the girls' rights under the Patsy Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act, also known as Title IX, as well as their constitutional rights, are being violated. They are asking that Ezra require the state and county to provide equal access to playing fields before the end of the softball season in May.

Laurie Temple, ACLU Hawaii staff attorney, said equal access to quality facilities is a problem that girls programs face across the country. Temple said it's disappointing that the Baldwin softball team is dealing with this problem on the home island of Mink, the former Hawai'i congresswoman who led the fight to get Title IX approved in 1972.

"Historically, boys athletic programs have gained more support and so girls programs have been left behind," Temple said. "The girls want nothing more than just to be treated fairly. Equal doesn't have to mean identical, but it can't result in second-class treatment. So they aren't necessarily looking to be able to play at Maehara Stadium, but what they do want is to be treated fairly and with respect."