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Girls Win--and All Kids Benefit

The sports-crazy dad who rushes out to buy his newborn son a football is a familiar icon in American culture. But these days a dad--or mom--is as likely to be buying a catcher’s mitt or a soccer ball for a little athlete named Lindsay or Brittany or Courtney.

Dave Berman was one of those dads. But it wasn’t until he was president of the West Valley Girls Softball League--for which daughters Lindsay, Brittany and Courtney play--that he realized that the larger culture, or at least the rest of Los Angeles, had not caught on to the idea that girls can be jocks too.

His girls league shuttled from park to park, playing on fields with holes and bald patches while boys teams had permanent, well-tended home fields. When efforts to get access to a decent playing field went nowhere, the West Valley Girls Softball League sued the city. The American Civil Liberties Union expanded the suit to cover girls citywide.

It’s unfortunate that it took a lawsuit to pressure officials from the Recreation and Parks Department to make quality sports programs available to kids of both genders. But it is encouraging that the city got the message--and settled last week without going to court.

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The lawsuit pressured city officials to come up with creative solutions. The city, for instance, struck a deal with the Los Angeles Unified School District to keep campuses open after school and on weekends for organized sports teams. After a study revealed that 20% of the San Fernando Valley’s recreational centers and parks were not fully used, the city set out to realign schedules to make better use of these scarce resources.

Another study prompted by the lawsuit found that boys outnumber girls in city sports programs 4 to 1, so the city agreed to provide more sports clinics for girls, assign more women to administer sports programs and recruit female athletes to volunteer as mentors, all part of an ambitious new program called “Raise the Bar.”

And as the final step toward settling the lawsuit, the city agreed to provide the West Valley Girls Softball League with a five-year lease, with a 10-year renewal option, at Hughes Middle School.

The settlement says girls matter, according to Paula Pearlman of the California Women’s Law Center, one of the league’s lawyers. That it does.

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It also says kids matter. Building new playing fields and finding more efficient ways to schedule the ones already in the city’s inventory helps not just girls’ teams but all teams. May this consciousness raising exercise prompt the city to develop more sports programs for kids of all ages, all colors--and both genders.


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