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Ballfield dispute ends in draw

"Softball-gloved girls will be regularly taking to the field at Lower Rotary Park for the next two seasons – for the first time ever.It’s the key provision of a Nov. 3 agreement, brokered in a six-hour mediation session between Bainbridge Island Little League board members and softball advocacy group Angels in the Infield.Both groups, however, concede that the settlement resolves only one part of a much larger gender-equity issue.“(This) doesn’t mean Little League doesn’t have a huge sex discrimination problem, which it does,” said Kim Koenig, who with longtime softball activist Kirk Robinson spearheaded the Angels’ effort. “This should dispel the notion that giving the girls’ softball teams their fair share has to take anything away from the baseball teams.”The two have submitted a 23-page “Gender Equity Program” proposal to league board members, which will be taken up at their Dec. 1 meeting.Ken Guy, Little League president, called the agreement “a good compromise.”“None of us wanted to go through this,” Guy said. “The positive outcome is that it’s really helped us plan for the future and set a positive tone for the next two years.“Maybe we didn’t agree at the start on how to accomplish this...but we are committed to putting our energy into finding the best possible fields for our kids. That’s a common goal.”The two groups have been embroiled in a dispute since last spring over whether sex discrimination in the Bainbridge Little League exists, and to what extent. Koenig and Robinson’s group contended that the league has allocated the best fields and the majority of its money to boys’ baseball programs. League officials have argued that no conscious discrimination exists, and that boys’ programs simply have a more committed volunteer base of players and parents.The park district, which oversees the fields on which Little Leaguers play, ordered the two parties into mediation after the previous board was unable to resolve the issue with Koenig and Robinson.Key points of the agreement include:l Improvements to Strawberry Hill Park’s No. 2 field, used in recent seasons for both softball and baseball. Guy hopes to launch winter work parties, similar to the ones that installed a state-of-the-art drainage system at Lower Rotary Park last winter, to have the field ready by the beginning of the 2000 playing season.l Installation of a dirt infield on Strawberry Hill’s No. 1 field. This would isolate the field purely for use for softball, which requires a “skin” infield and a pitching plate in place of a raised mound. The Bainbridge Pee Wee Association, which uses much of both the No. 1 and 2 fields for fall football play, would have to sign off on those improvements.l Rotation of major-league baseball play equally between Lower Rotary, Upper Rotary and Strawberry No. 2. This would free up time on those fields for equal use for softball games, to be played on each of those fields in addition to Strawberry No. 1 and the brand-new Hidden Cove Park when it comes on line midway through the 2000 season.In addition, Little League board members agreed to establish a Softball Committee dealing directly with that sport’s specific issues. They’ll also revisit league by-laws to ensure they don’t actively or by omission reinforce perceived discriminatory practices.“We got a proposition that benefits all the kids in Little League,” Guy said. “It allows us to focus our time and energy on the upcoming season, and not deal with being locked into potential litigation and extra meetings.”"

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