ACLU Sues Little League to Let Boys Play Softball

Times Staff Writer

The American Civil Liberties Union switched to hardball Tuesday in its effort to force national Little League officials to lift an order barring boys from playing softball.

Acting on behalf of two San Diego youths who have been prevented from trying out for Little League softball teams this year because of a nationwide policy change, ACLU attorneys filed for an injunction against the ban in San Diego Superior Court.

Joe Torres Jr., 10, and Louis Fuentes Jr., 14, both played softball last year in the Sunshine Little League. They cannot play this year because, in November, officials at national Little League headquarters in Williamsport, Pa., banned boys from playing in order to give girls more opportunities to play on softball teams.

The ACLU suit asks the court to issue an injunction lifting the Little League ban and allowing boys throughout California to try out for Little League softball teams. A hearing on the injunction is scheduled for Feb. 19.

ACLU attorney Gregory Marshall said he chose Torres as a plaintiff in the suit primarily because his parents asked the ACLU to help them get the ruling changed. Fuentes was named because "he felt strongly enough that he refused to sign up for baseball. He wanted to play softball and that's all he wanted to do."

League officials contend that softball is slowly becoming a male-dominated sport. They imposed the girls-only softball rule this year, they said, to keep girls from being forced off softball teams by the more-skilled boy players.

In a letter to Little League President Creighton R. Hale, Marshall said that the policy appeared to violate California's Unruh Civil Rights Act. Marshall said the policy discriminated against boys on the basis of sex and should be rescinded in California.

The ACLU decided to file suit when Marshall received word last week from national Little League attorneys that the league would not meet an ACLU deadline to rescind the ruling.

Marshall said Tuesday that he was "reasonably optimistic" that the ban would be lifted because the hardship placed on boys who want to play softball is greater than that faced by the league if it has to rescind the ruling.

"I think there's really no hardship at all on the Little League organization," he said. "They might have to prepare a short statement (to send to their affiliates) about the judge's decision."

But, Marshall said, the number of years that a child can play softball are limited. If the ban is not lifted soon, many boys will not get a chance to play during their final year of eligibility.

Sunshine Little League officials said the central San Diego league had 20 teams last year, five of them softball teams. Of the 62 players on the softball teams, 19 were boys.

The ACLU received support from the Associated Students Council at UC San Diego. The campus group called on the Little League to lift the ban on boy softball players, noting that in 1973 the league was forced to allow girls to play on Little League baseball teams and calling on league administrators "to treat both sexes equally and fairly" by allowing boys to play softball.

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