Maui high school shortchanged girls' softball team, judge rules
By Jim Dooley
Advertiser Staff Writer
Federal Judge David Ezra said yesterday there is an "obvious disparity" in boys' and girls' athletic facilities at Baldwin High School on Maui that violates federal law.
He ordered state and Maui County officials to fix a softball field where the Baldwin girls' varsity and junior varsity softball teams used to play before it was closed for repairs and the teams were moved to a more distant county facility.
Ezra said he wants an outside expert to study both the old and new fields to determine how quickly the repairs can be made, and whether the new field is safe for continued use.
County and state officials told the judge they believe the new field is superior to the old one, and that there are no safety concerns for teams that play there.
But Ezra said the overall difference in facilities afforded the Baldwin boys' baseball team and the girls' softball team is so striking that a federal lawsuit was long overdue.
"The facts are indisputable," Ezra said.
"The boys play in a near-semiprofessional baseball stadium."
The girls have been "relegated to a park facility that is substantially substandard in every respect compared to the facility afforded the boys," he ruled.
The decision came in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Baldwin softball coach Joe Duran and a group of his players, alleging that the girls are being discriminated against because of their gender.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs called Ezra's decision a victory for girls' athletics.
State Department of Education officials said they plan to build a new Baldwin girls' softball facility that will be ready for use in 2012.
It's not clear whether the study and remedial work ordered by Ezra can be completed before the current softball season ends in May.
At the urging of Maui County Deputy Corporation Counsel Jane Lovell, Ezra said he would appoint a federal judge-magistrate to mediate the differences between the parties.
But Ezra also said he believes the litigation is "in its infancy."
Lois Perrin of the ACLU said outside court she was "thrilled" by Ezra's ruling.
Lovell said she believes that the outside expert — to be selected by both sides — will find that the softball field now used by both the Baldwin and St. Anthony's High School girls' softball teams is far superior to the Little League baseball field that was used before and is now being repaired .
And she said that the boys' baseball field is far from the "field of dreams" that Ezra described. It was in such disrepair at one point that it was a health and safety hazard, Lovell said.
ACLU lawyer Daniel Gluck said in court that the county has spent more than $1.8 million to upgrade the baseball stadium. But Lovell said she believed those numbers were inflated.
All the fields are in constant demand by a variety of sporting teams for boys, girls, men and women, Lovell said.
Duran said in the lawsuit that the field his teams now use — at Kē'o-pu-alani Park — is a mile away, and team members have to spend valuable practice time carrying books and equipment to and from the facility.
That reduces their study hall and tutoring hours and exposes the young women to safety risks, ACLU lawyer Gluck argued to Ezra.
Duran said the softball players have to spend time picking rocks off the field before they can play.
Three girls have suffered minor injuries because of the rocky conditions at Kē'opualani, he said.
But Maui County Parks and Recreation Department Director Tamara Horcajo said in a sworn declaration that the field is in good condition and is regularly maintained.
John Kim, the father of a St. Anthony's softball player, said in another declaration that his daughter has practiced and played at Kē'opualani for three years.
"I consider this field to to be well maintained and one of the best in the state," Kim said.
"I am not aware of any injuries to softball players related to maintenance of (the field)."