Teen volleyball player takes her dispute to another kind of court
When Audrey Dimitrew won a spot on a club volleyball team in Chantilly, Va., the 16-year-old hoped to impress varsity coaches and possibly college coaches.
But when her coach benched her and the league told her she couldn't join another team, the action shifted from one court to another -- she and her family sued.
Audrey said she could miss a pivotal season this spring and thinks that a large, controlling league has lost sight of its primary mission: encouraging kids to play sports. The league has said that Audrey is disgruntled with her playing time and that transferring her to another team would create a flood of similar requests.
"It would be really heartbreaking not to play," Audrey said. "I would be losing a big part of my life."
The lawsuit is one of a number filed across the country in recent years as families have increasingly turned to the courts to intervene in youth sports disputes. Parents upset that their children have been cut, benched, yelled at by coaches or even fouled too hard are asking judges to referee.
Some experts see such lawsuits as part of a shift in youth sports in recent decades away from sandlot play and intramural teams to professionalized leagues and tryout teams partly aimed at snagging scholarships for players and giving them a leg up in college admissions.
Although most kids join just for fun, or to hang out with groups of friends, for some families the competition takes on a more serious focus. Parents are spending thousands and giving up countless weekends for kids to participate on travel teams and prestigious high school programs. Experts say parents want a return on that investment -- and a handful are willing to sue if they don't get it.
"Youth sports is not just about orange slices and kids running free," said Tom Farrey, executive director of the Aspen Institute's Project Play and author of a book on the topic. "It's about aggregating talent in as elite a setting as possible so that your kid can receive a reward at 17 or 18."
Audrey said she's not sure whether she will play in college, but the Dimitrews think the spring season of 10th grade is a crucial one for getting exposure to coaches who can elevate her game.
Like many suburban families, the Dimitrews' weeks often revolve around practices and games. Audrey played on the junior varsity team at Purcellville's Woodgrove High School and traveled regionally for club play. Then, there's sand volleyball and the youth team she coaches.
The family juggles this and more while running a company that builds custom high-end homes. Susan Dimitrew estimates the family will spend $6,000 on her daughter's volleyball this year.
They are hardly alone. Club teams require substantial investment for coaches, gear and more. Project Play estimates the average travel team parent is spending about $2,300 a year, while those of the most elite players lay out $20,000 a year or more.
Audrey said the lawsuit is not about money or future prospects for her. Amid AP classes and drama productions, volleyball has been a refuge since she followed her older sister onto the court in sixth grade.
She can't understand why her league, the Chesapeake Region Volleyball Association (CHRVA), won't let her join another team. The league is one of the largest in the region with more than 8,600 girls on teams.
The dispute began after Audrey and about 75 other girls competed for spots on the under-16 Chantilly Juniors in November. The coach told Audrey she was the best setter at the tryout and would get playing time, according to court documents.
Audrey got an offer to join Chantilly that night and three more from other teams she tried out for. She selected the Juniors and signed a contract with the team -- something common among youth travel teams today.
George Doumar, an attorney for the Chantilly Juniors, who were also named in the suit, said that "we wish Audrey well" and added the dispute "is really between [the Dimitrews] and the. . . association."
Farrey said competitive club and travel teams have been growing. They began with hockey in the 1980s and then spread to soccer and other sports in the '90s and beyond.
The increase comes in part from parents hoping to groom their kids for sports scholarships, which have mushroomed from nearly $600 million a year in the early '90s to more than $2 billion today.
Sent to the bench
Audrey's season began with promise. She said she was getting practice and scrimmage play but was benched for the first two tournaments in mid-January.
The coach told Audrey she was not ready to be a setter on the team and would not play much for the rest of the season, even though she had "college level" skills, according to court documents. The family was disappointed, perplexed and felt they had not been given what they were promised after a significant investment.
"She is devastated," Susan Dimitrew wrote to the coach about Audrey. "It is important that she plays, and plays the position you offered her of setter as that is the position she plays in high school."
The coach gave Audrey two options: She could be a practice player for the Juniors or transfer to another team in the league. She chose the latter option, and her parents found a team willing to take her.
But the league, which must approve such moves, said it would set a bad precedent. According to league bylaws, players can switch teams only if they demonstrate a "verifiable hardship," a rule that was not spelled out in the contract Audrey signed.
The Dimitrews argue that Audrey's case applies, but league officials disagree.
"Should CHRVA allow players the ability to move teams when they are unhappy with the amount of playtime they are receiving, we would be overwhelmed with requests to change teams," a CHRVA official wrote to the Dimitrews.
After appeals failed, the Dimitrews filed suit in mid-March. More and more parents are doing the same.
In 2013, a father in the suburbs of Philadelphia sued his son's high school track coach for $40 million after the teen was cut. The man claimed his son's chances of getting a college scholarship were badly damaged.
Last year, a Dallas-area father filed a racketeering lawsuit against an elite lacrosse camp, accusing officials of intimidating players into attending. He cited as evidence the fact that his son wasn't made an official member of the varsity team by a coach who also worked at the camp.
Farrey, the executive director of the Project Play, said this moment in youth sports has been building for years as a competitive strain of youth sports has grown in some communities, particularly affluent suburbs like those in the D.C. area.
The competition has pushed kids to specialize in sports younger and parents to look for early advantages. There is now an under-8 national championship in basketball. A Colorado company markets a $169 test that will determine a child's genetic predisposition to strength or endurance sports. Another makes athletic training videos for 6-month-olds.
Experts say the collision of big aspirations and big money is fertile ground for lawsuits.
"I refer to it as the global warming of youth sports," said Mark Hyman, a George Washington University professor of sports management.
Some parents are blowing the whistle. A 2014 ESPN Project Play poll found roughly 70 percent of parents surveyed thought youth sports were too expensive and time-consuming and placed too much emphasis on winning over having fun.
A legal back-and-forth
On a recent morning, Audrey and her attorney sat in a wood-paneled courtroom in Fairfax County across from lawyers for CHRVA and the Chantilly Juniors. With the season quickly slipping away, the family asked for a temporary injunction so Audrey could play the rest of the season with a new team.
The attorneys spent nearly three hours debating the league's bylaws and how much Audrey would suffer by missing games.
"This young lady has nowhere to play," argued her attorney, Robert Cunningham.
CHRVA's attorney said the suit might sink the entire league.
"They are seriously contemplating disbanding the club because of the expense of being sued," said attorney Kenneth G. Stallard.
Fairfax County Judge John Tran was sympathetic to Audrey's predicament, saying he was "unhappy. . . that a child is not given an opportunity to play."
But he said the law did not allow him to intervene in the decision-making process of a private organization. He declined to issue a temporary injunction.
The ruling effectively meant Audrey wouldn't play this season, but Susan Dimitrew said the fight will continue.
"I never imagined in my wildest dreams there would be a lawsuit over this," she said. "But I think it's the right thing to do. I don't think my child is the only one that has experienced something like this. They don't think they have to answer to anyone."
Arrested softball association leader has criminal past
An ex-president of the Wylie Fastpitch Softball Association who was arrested for stealing last week has a criminal past
-- a criminal history that didn't stop her, even after a background check, from leading the organization.
Kandace Raymond, 50, was taken into custody after Abilene police say she stole at least $45,000 from that league.
League officials have said the latest alleged crime involving Raymond has put the league's future in jeopardy.
KTXS looked into Raymond's background and found at least four other crimes, such as forgery and credit card fraud. In addition to serving as league president, Raymond also served as a coach at a time when coaches with the Amateur Softball Association are required to pass background checks.
Now, some parents and league board members want to know how she was able to fly under the radar.
"You know we want nothing but the safety for the girls at the fields," said Tim Farrar, board member of the Wylie Fastpitch Softball Association.
KTXS took a look at Raymond's criminal past and found a felony credit card fraud charge from 1999 in Virginia, a felony forgery charge filed in 2000, a felony falsifying business charge out of New York, and back in 1987, a guilty plea to theft by deception in New Jersey.
Wylie Fastpitch Softball Association board members want the public to know they are "not" in charge of doing background checks on coaches. That, instead, is the responsibility of the Amateur Softball Association.
"I don't make the decision as to whether they coach or not," said Donnie Hart, commissioner for the ASA's District 11.
Hart is charged with ensuring background checks are done, but he says "national" headquarters decides who gets one of these badges that gets them onto the fields.
According to Hart, Raymond's criminal past got her red flagged, but the ASA decided to let her coach, anyway. Hart said only crimes like sex crimes and drug use get a potential coach automatically banned. The ASA looks and determines if it is going to be a threat for the individual to coach a group of girls in 2015 versus what they did 20 or 30 years ago.
Meanwhile, the ASA and Wylie board assure there's no bad blood between the two organizations. That said, board members say they're looking into doing their own background checks to make sure both their kids "and" their money are protected.
"We're really just looking at internally doing our own investigating and our own background checks," Farrar said.
Chris Adams, president of the Wylie Fastpitch Softball Association, says the league is in a dire financial situation after losing the $45,000.
Editors Note: ASA did a background check on an
individual and it was reported they had a history of financial criminal
activity. But that did not prevent them from coaching. The
association, placed trust in the individual based on that background check to
run the association's finances -- and lost $45,000 in the process, because ASA
didn't believe financial crimes impacted a person's ability to coach.
Should the background checks on individuals in your program be done by your
program? The league? Or the sanctioning body in which they play
(some teams may play in many sanctioned programs, e.g. ASA, USSSSA, PFG, PONY,
etc). Is it important to know that the coaches on other teams also had a
background check completed?
The Real Bullies at School
Teachers are vilified for being too hard on students, so
why aren't coaches held to the same standard?
Playing basketball had been a singular source of joy for her. She had taken it up in first grade, honed her talent in year-round competitive leagues, and earned a spot on the varsity team as a high-school freshman. Now a sophomore at a private California high school, the girl
-- whom I'll call Erin -- began to dread practice. She felt stupid and insecure. According to Erin, the head coach regularly scolded the team for lacking commitment, punished them with sprint drills for losses and mistakes, and yanked them out of games if they missed a lay-up or turned the ball over.
"She liked to yell a lot," Erin said, though she found the coach's failure to instruct almost as demoralizing.
"She'd not explain a drill, I'd mess up, and then we'd have to run for my
mistake ... If I asked for directions, she'd say, 'You should have been paying
It got so bad that Erin sometimes had panic attacks during practice.
"She kept yelling at me, 'Your shot is terrible! You need to get it off
faster!'" Erin recalled. "She's like a ticking time bomb, and you don't know
when she's gonna go off ... I started to hate the sport."
Erin's mother said she was so alarmed by her daughter's declining spirits that she brought her concerns to the school's athletic director. When the director reasoned that it's common for parents to be upset when their kids don't get playing time, she went to the head of school. To her surprise, the school head had never heard any misgivings about the coach.
"I've seen parents try to get a preschool teacher fired for serving the wrong apple juice," Erin's mother told me.
"But if their child has the worst soccer coach on the planet, they say nothing.
Why is this true in the athletic arena, and nowhere else?"
Parents aren't surprised when coaches belittle and holler. Anyone who's ever played or watched a competitive sport is familiar with the trope of the cruel coach: the sullen football coach who makes his underperforming team run sprints until the first person vomits; the red-faced baseball coach who screams at 10-year-olds to shut up and listen when they start monkeying around in the dugout; the freshman lacrosse coach, barely out of college himself, who explodes at the team when they blow a simple play.
"You have a cruel coach with high expectations who brings out the best in his
players, and at the end they're grateful ... Parents have seen too many movies."
"I don't think there's any arena where you're not going to find this," said John P. Sullivan, a clinical sports psychologist who works with the NFL and consults with collegiate teams. But rather than intervene and demand civility from the adult in charge, parents, school officials, and bystanders often remain mute. Indeed, few seem to even notice.
Because such coaching behavior is hard to quantify, solid data on the extent of the problem is lacking, according to John Engh of the National Alliance for Youth Sports. In a reliable study conducted in 2005, 36 percent of coaches working with fifth through eighth graders admitted to yelling angrily at players for making mistakes.
"This style isn't eroding," Engh said.
What makes the persistence of these coaching methods perplexing is America's cultural intolerance for threatening or demeaning language in other public spheres, especially schools. College professors are expected to warn their students before discussing potentially upsetting subjects to avoid triggering trauma. Schools are keen to prevent bullying: Every state but Montana has passed anti-bullying laws or policies that prohibit peer-on-peer abuses of power, making school districts responsible for weeding out bullies and protecting the abused. Certain types of language are off-limits even among fans and players at sporting events. In 2013, New Jersey became the first state to impose no-nonsense sportsmanship rules that prohibit biased and malicious language at all public high-school sporting events; players, fans, and coaches who trash talk or offend their opponents can be punished. Ridiculing your own team, apparently, remains permissible.
So what makes coaches impervious to cultural pressure against demeaning language and harsh methods?
"It's a cultural meme almost," Laurence Steinberg told me. Steinberg is a psychology professor at Temple University and the author of the recently published Age of Opportunity: Lessons From the New Science of Adolescence, which explains what recent findings about the brain say about adolescent behavior.
"You have a cruel coach with high expectations who brings out the best in his
players, and at the end they're grateful ... Parents have seen too many movies."
Is it harmless? "They're children; it can't be good for them," Steinberg said. "Because of the way we've raised the stakes with athletics, kids are already very anxious and have terrible performance anxiety before games." Critical, highly emotional language directed at children, on top of the pressure-cooker atmosphere, is doubly powerful, he says, because during adolescence the brain is particularly sensitive to emotional arousal.
"When an adult is delivering a message to an adolescent, if it's in an emotional way, the kids will pay more attention to the way the message is delivered than to what is in the message," he said. And as any parent knows, adolescents are acutely attuned to the sensibilities and opinions of their peers, making a humiliating remark delivered by an adult in front of the team all the more agonizing.
"Not only do they suffer from the loss, but they're also screamed at in front of other people, which is worse," Steinberg said.
Sports psychologists, meanwhile, have long known that yelling at athletes does not improve performance. In a 2013 report that summarized the research on coaching styles, a team of academics affiliated with the American Psychological Association concluded that supportive coaching delivers better results:
"Coaches who provide high levels of encouragement, support, and autonomy are
more likely to foster positive psychological responses in their athletes and
ultimately lead to higher levels of performance."
Yet there's little public appetite to address the problem. Young athletes are typically ill-equipped to confront an intimidating authority. And particularly for boys, who often use sports to signal their physical and mental toughness, complaining about a coach's abusive tactics can smack of weakness.
"Guys are supposed to be macho and tough and suck it up," said Nancy Swigonski, a pediatrician at the Children's Health Services Research Institute in Indiana.
Other athletes consider the screaming coach just one in a long list of miseries they have to endure for the sake of their sport, says Katherine Starr, a former Olympic swimmer who started Safe4Athletes to combat coaching abuses. And when you're talented and bursting with ambition, it's hard to challenge a coach's orders.
"Your personal dream traps you," she said.
"She's like a ticking time bomb, and you don't know when she's gonna go off
started to hate the sport."
Some parents will challenge a coach for using severe or demeaning language. But most parents are conflict averse and too worried about retaliation to speak up, Kody Moffatt, the who directs the pediatric sports medicine department at Children's Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha, told me.
"They're afraid to make the person who has the most control over playing time angry at them," he said.
"They're worried that they could make the situation worse." And the problem gets harder to confront as the sport gets more competitive. On club teams, for example, coaches may control all aspects of play and avoid even the limited oversight that exists in schools.
"Because so much power is given to the coach -- a college scholarship might be on the line!
-- there's a lot of incentive for parents to look the other way," she said.
"There's a wall of denial."
Tim Lear, a longtime coach and college counselor, surmised that some parents keep quiet out of a subconscious desire to expose their children to a little tough love. Today's parents are more involved and invested in their kids' lives than ever, and they find it harder to provide structure, discipline, and criticism.
"They kind of rely on outside people to be the taskmasters," he said. Maybe the tough coach will inject a little adversity into their lives; some un-sanctioned (but ignored) pokes from an adult authority might shrink the effects of all that parental coddling and give the kids some grit.
"I understand this as a parent, because it's almost always more fun to play the good cop," he said.
Of course, not everyone has kept silent. Starr was sexually abused by her swim coach and started Safe4Athletes four years ago to protect vulnerable young athletes from all kinds of misconduct, including the verbal variety. The organization provides club teams with management and policy guidelines that are designed to protect athletes, and works to persuade governing bodies in sports to adopt legislation that mandates such safeguards. On the list of prohibited behaviors by coaches included in its handbook are three that bedeviled Erin:
"Verbal or cruel harassment, including yelling and screaming; Mentally abusive or demeaning behavior; and Creation of excessive fatigue unrelated to normal training expectations and activities." These efforts serve to expose coaching behavior that is ordinarily ignored, and to empower athletes to challenge abusive methods.
"Until we collectively stand up and say we've had enough, it's not going to change," Starr said.
To protect younger kids, The National Alliance for Youth Sports aims to educate volunteers who often coach children in sports associations. Today, kids play on teams and clubs outside school more than they ever used to, according to Engh, and in these clubs most coaches
-- often parents of the best players -- have had no instruction on how to behave. The central mission of their training, he says, is to help coaches navigate the emotionally charged situations they'll encounter in competitions, so they know not to pick a fight with an umpire, say, or screech at Annie for letting a ball go through her legs.
"The buzzwords in youth sports are background checks for coaches, and concussion awareness," Engh said.
"How about basic training?"
Pediatricians also are waking up to the damage a bullying coach can cause. Last year the American Academy of Pediatrics put out a statement about the problem and discussed it at national meetings. Swigonski, who has written about the impact of bullying coaches on kids, says that the most frequent question she gets from parents about sports is whether or not a child should be allowed to quit. These unhappy children complain of not getting playing time and feeling inferior to others on the team, but
"the parents don't consider the behavior of the coach as a reason why they don't like it," Swigonski said, suggesting that schools set standards for coaches and monitor their behavior at practice. Over the long term, she believes kids would be better off if schools adopted athletic policies that promoted lifelong fitness over winning championships. When collecting victories becomes the main purpose of youth sports, the real value of playing
-- for health, discipline, and fun -- is often sacrificed, especially when a frenzied coach forgets that her players are just kids.
And others think that unsavory behavior would decline if coaches were trained properly and treated like educators, not part-time technicians. As it is, most high-school coaches have limited professional training and earn scant respect, and coaches of younger kids are often volunteers.
"They're ignored and told to do whatever they want," Sullivan said. Meanwhile, some coaches lack emotional control and get swept up in the drama of a tight game, according to Steinberg. Others belittle and scream as a last resort, he said, just as harried parents do when they have run out of tools to engender compliance. If more schools provided professional training and institutional support, Sullivan added, coaches who fall back on these methods would learn better ways to inspire their players. But without outside pressure, institutions that hire coaches to bring home wins are reluctant to take action. The cost of re-educating the offenders is high, he said, and school budgets already are tight.
After Erin's mother came forward, news of her complaint reached the coach. "I don't think she said my name once during the second half of the season," Erin recalls. But her high-school season recently ended, and she has club basketball to look forward to. Her coaches on that team encourage the players, set high standards, and help them understand and correct their mistakes.
"They make you want to go to practice," Erin said. "We're like a big family on
that team ... That was not the feeling on the high school team."
Thole: Adjustments necessary for youth sports
Don't get me wrong, because I'm not trying to be a know-it-all
-- trust me.
Since retiring, I've had the opportunity to get around and an enjoy youth sports and the volunteers who make them possible. I believe strongly in the value of youth sports because of the excitement and anticipation of the young players each time they step onto the hardwood, field, ice, track, mat or pool deck.
We are talking about St. Croix Valley Athletic Association youth sports in general, and the girls' basketball program in particular.
According to former NBA player and youth basketball expert Bob Bigelow, the rule of thumb regarding youth sports is this:
"Always adapt the game to the kids, never adapt the kids to the game."
Having my interest piqued in youth basketball over the years during discussions with parents who I knew through football
-- and now that I have more time on my hands than Denny Hecker -- I decided to consult one of my favorite former phy-ed students.
Sarah (Howard) Thompson, who by the way was also an all-state basketball player and Jim McLaughlin Award winner before she became an All-American basketball star at St. Cloud State University, is currently coaching a 5th-6th grade VAA girls' hoops team and she invited me to come and watch them play in their season-ending tournament.
One of the things I was surprised to see was that the basket height was 10 feet. Back in the old days, we used to lower our baskets at the old Stillwater High School (now SJHS) to eight feet every Friday after school for the VAA basketball games the next morning.
In watching these current games, it looked like some of these girls were trying to heave a 10-pound medicine ball up to the basket, which looked like it was preparing them for a construction job.
Another thing that I noticed is that they were using regulation-sized balls, which is the same size used in the high school and college game. One reason I noticed this is because these girls seemed relatively small
-- there were no potential Terri Hills, Carolyn (Frisk) Caprigliones or Marlene Junkers out there. The ball seemed too big for them.
In addition, more than 50 percent of the free throws shot were complete air balls
-- in other words, no wood, no metal, no glass and no score. Would it be presumptuous to move the free throw line in a few feet closer to give these kids a chance of at least hitting the rim?
I understand that we have fewer teams in the VAA this year, which necessitated us combining programs with the Woodbury program (WAA). What if we moved to smaller-sided games, like 3-on-3, which would mean we could have more teams with fewer players and maintain our own program? Plus, 3-on-3 might be better suited for these younger kids anyway.
Kids get to touch the ball more, which lends to better skill development. It creates more open space, fewer turnovers and less clutter. There seems to be more opportunity for the kids to have success
-- such as making a shot or successful pass, dribbling without turning the ball over, etc.
-- with a smaller number of players on the court.
I ran these ideas past my buddy, Sarah, and she responded: "I agree completely with what you're proposing. Having lower baskets, smaller balls, a closer free throw line and fewer players on the floor will result in kids having more success at this level, which equates to more fun and keeps them coming back next year.
"We need to get away from the hurry to get these elementary-aged kids playing the adult-sized game. I like the way Bigelow puts it,
'don't confuse where these young kids might play in the future with what is best
for their play and enjoyment of the present.'
"Would anyone demand a fifth-grader study trigonometry or calculus before they master basic math? So why do we rush these young kids into the adult game before they have the physical ability or skills to play it successfully?
"Adapt the game to the kids, not the other way around."
In conclusion, take my advice because I'm not using it.
Sarah and I also agree on one other point: we have a five-star girls' varsity coach in Willie Taylor.
Why Title IX is still important for women
"It's not our fault that we were born girls. We just want to play too," said Lisa Leslie, former professional women's basketball star. On March 3, Leslie presented a keynote speech in Hilton 100 on pioneering women's athletics in honor of Title IX Week which was sponsored by ASLMU. A self-described
"Title IX baby," Leslie was born in 1972, the year that Title IX was passed, and enjoyed its benefits during her career in basketball.
Title IX states, "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving financial assistance." It not only applies to sports, but also to the workplace, school and anywhere where discrimination can occur. Title IX continues to carry great importance because women today still face barriers from pursuing male-dominated fields, including sports, business and entertainment -- all of which Leslie has been active in.
Competitive but personable, confident but humble, tough but feminine -- these words can only begin to describe Lisa Leslie. A pioneer of the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA), Leslie played for 13 seasons and scored a historical first slam-dunk in the league. She led the Los Angeles Sparks to the WNBA Championship and was a three-time MVP for the team. Even though her legacy proves her incredible athletic ability, many of us are unaware of women like her because of how underrepresented women's sports are in the media.
"Why can't we get one highlight in? Women are doing great things in sports and should be highlighted as well," Leslie said. Her phenomenal career reverses the stereotypes and misconceptions that women do not compete the same way that men do.
"I'm tough when times get tough, and I'm a winner," she said.
As a basketball player, mother, entrepreneur, sports analyst, model and motivational speaker, Leslie appreciates the words and effects of Title IX. She attributes her ability to pursue so many opportunities to the ruling. However, the hard work and dedication to her dreams led her to success.
A firm believer in the power of education, Leslie earned both bachelor's and master's degrees at the University of Southern California. Leslie lives by setting goals for herself and striving to achieve them. She put in the time; she woke up at 6 a.m. to go to the gym, practiced both with her team and with her coach individually and watched videos to improve her skills. She never let the societal expectations of her gender hold her back from going after her dreams.
Leslie considers her mom to be her greatest inspiration.
"My mom was probably the prettiest truck driver you'd ever seen," she said. Leslie firmly believes in owning one's beauty, while also owning one's athleticism -- she does not see a need to hide her love of sports in order to fit the traditional standards of beauty portrayed by the media.
"You have a jersey on and mascara," she exclaimed about a student waiting to get her autograph,
"just like what I do."
Leslie believes the discussion of Title IX and women's issues needs to be inclusive of men. Due to social and cultural norms, men have the power to make decisions that can improve the status of women. Leslie emphasized this in her speech, saying,
"We have to make a social change together."
Even though Title IX was passed over 40 years ago, there is still progress to be made in sports, corporations and the media. Recently, Always started the #LikeAGirl campaign, which argues that this common insult should actually be considered a compliment, as women have the ability to do amazing things, especially in the athletic realm.
The #LikeAGirl movement is a promising start, but this attitude needs to continue into adulthood.
"Hopefully one day we will see change," Leslie said. And with everything that she's done for women, I have no doubt that we will.
The Los Angeles Loyolan
#ThisGirlCan: I've never believed in positive discrimination before, but Katarina Johnson-Thompson has helped change my mind
by STEFANO HATFIELD
If you don't yet know the name Katarina Johnson-Thompson then you soon will, because if ever there was a
"girl who can", she is it.
On Friday, Johnson-Thompson won the first of what will be many major athletics tournaments' gold medals by taking the European Indoor Championships in Prague smashing Jessica Ennis Hill's pentathlon record in the process.
Watching her in tears at the conclusion of a monumental feat of hurdling, jumping, throwing, leaping and throwing, we soon realized they were not of joy. She was
"devastated" to have failed to break the 5013 points world record by a mere 13 points.
I'd bet my house on the 22-year-old Liverpudlian breaking it soon however, particularly with a passion, ambition and commitment that would put many other athletes to shame.
Female sport has been a tricky subject for me since I used to write daily here as the editor. I would endorse it, but get castigated for not doing more when I was in a position to do so. Those reader critics were correct. We so seldom have the opportunity to really change things in our lives.
I should have devoted more space to female sport. It needed a conscious decision to practise positive discrimination to do so. I failed. My successors are doing a better job of it now.
The reasons "why" came home to me this past week. Firstly, my daughters both went further in their school's lacrosse team than any group in the school's history over a thrilling couple of days at the National Schools Lacrosse Championships, where girls were playing this dramatic, challenging sport as far as the eye could see. They were rightly elated to reach the quarter-finals.
Then, there was the incredible Johnson-Thompson, and thirdly, the extraordinary experience of my elder daughter as part of an astonishing 6,033 crowd at a netball match at the Olympic Park's Copper Box.
She had been inspired to go by a former coach, who was playing on one of the teams. Surrey Storm v Hertfordshire Mavericks wasn't just any old netball match however, despite its regular league status.
Because netball is now televised live on Sky Sports interest has soared. That 6,000 is
"astonishing" because last year's 3,000 was already impressive. #netballlondonlive was trending on Twitter.
Which came first, a 6,000 attendance or the popularity of netball, which thousands of girls play every week? We know the answer. Sky's coverage gave it a positive stamp of legitimacy, alongside the obvious marketing boost.
"This Girl Can" campaign aims to combat the worrying statistic that some 2 million fewer females aged 14-40 are involved in sport compared to males. This, despite 75 per cent of them saying they would like to do more. It's a wider disparity than in most major European countries.
I've never particularly been a fan of positive discrimination in the past, but as the girls get older, and their fight for gender equality shape-shifts into a battle against a more overt unfairness than during childhood, I can see more clearly now that some things simply will not change unless those who can effect change go out of their way to help those
"girls who can" realise their potential. It is a campaign we should all get behind, because it is one that will benefit all of us, not just sporty girls.
The Independent (UK)
Can Digital Vigilantism Make the Internet Safer for Women?
On February 25, former Red Sox pitching star Curt Schilling did what any proud, tech-savvy father might do to celebrate his 17-year-old daughter Gabby's acceptance to college on a softball scholarship: He sang her praises on his Twitter page. He expected, and got, the usual Internet snark in return
-- "smart ass college kids," as he put it, tweeting
"I'll take care of her" and "can't wait to date her!" But even to a longtime social media user like Schilling, many of the responses were appalling, even infuriating.
"Teach me your knuckleball technique so I can shove my fist in your daughter," one Twitter user wrote.
"How far is Salve Regina from Jersey? I wanna come and play, but Gabby wants me to cum and stay," wrote another.
"Is this even remotely ok? In ANY world? At ANY time?" Schilling wrote on his blog.
That whole experience may have taken Schilling aback, but it came as no surprise to many others. Women in particular have long been unwelcome on the Internet, subject to a never-ending torrent of verbal abuse that often escalates to stalking and violent threats
-- often as retribution for simply speaking their minds. Seventy percent of the 4,043 people who reported experiencing severe online harassment between 2000 and 2013 were female, according to the volunteer organization Working to Halt Online Abuse. More recently, a 2014 Pew Research Center study found that some
"26 percent of these young women have been stalked online, and 25 percent were
the target of online sexual harassment."
Many of these victims lack the time, resources, or will to fight back. But not Schilling. He spent the next several days tracking down the trolls threatening his daughter, ferreting out their real names and hometowns
-- and, in turn, addresses, jobs, high schools, and colleges -- from information made public on their Facebook and Instagram pages.
"Within an hour and a half, I found nine of them," Schilling told the New York Post. He quickly got one of his daughter's would-be harassers fired from his job as a part-time ticket seller for the Yankees; another was suspended from New Jersey's Brookdale Community College and placed under investigation by local police. Schilling has publicized his troll hunt on national television and enlisted fans and sports-world chums into this digital posse of sorts, urging universities and businesses to hold their employees accountable for their online activities.
Schilling's run-in with the Twitter sewer is part of a larger backlash. A moment when, both culturally and legally, a message is finally being sent to racists, abusers, and misogynists: The days of the Wild West Web are numbered.
According to the Post, Schilling is no longer "naming names," at his daughter's request. But his fight is far from over: Unsatisfied with getting a few punks suspended or fired, Schilling is reportedly pursuing legal action for the emotional distress inflicted on his daughter. More than any lawsuit or financial compensation, Schilling wants to set an example:
"She's already started to move on, and I need that to happen," Schilling said to the Post, talking about his daughter.
"But I want young girls and women to know: You don't have to take this."
The mini-saga of Curt Schilling vs. the Internet captured the attention of the entire nation, and not simply because of his celebrity. To understand why war against digital trolls waged by Schilling and thousands of other women resonates so deeply in American culture, we have to look back to another frontier in American history: the Wild West.
San Francisco in the mid-19th century was a lawless place. As thousands of fortune-seekers poured into the city following the gold strike at Sutter's Mill, they found a legal system overwhelmed and corrupted, unwilling or unable to prevent or punish arson and murder. The entrepreneurs and con men capitalizing on the Gold Rush paid little heed to the lack of justice
-- so long as the victims were indigents and immigrants. But by 1851, crime had reached intolerable levels. The specter of violence and arson fueled by organized marauders sparked the formation of the Committee of Vigilance, an ad-hoc law-and-order movement led by local importer Sam Brannan that used any means necessary
-- including lynching -- to succeed where establishment policing had failed. Seven hundred citizens strong, the vigilante handily drove the bandits from town. After that, having accomplished their mission, the group promptly dispersed.
American vigilantism's initial trial run was brief; the streets of San Francisco remained relatively safe as the city's population continued to grow. That all changed in 1856. The Daily Evening Bulletin, arguably San Francisco's most influential paper at time, had been relentlessly denouncing the greed and abuses of local public- and private-sector elites. James King, the Bulletin's outspoken editor, was murdered in the street by a bitter enemy and establishment crony in retaliation for targeting the political establishment. King's death sparked a second, much bigger Committee on Vigilance, this one swelling to some 6,000 men virtually overnight. This group's
"justice" was swift; King's killer, political operative James Casey, was hanged on the same day as the journalist's funeral. The righteous principles of vigilantism quickly went mainstream in San Francisco, adopted by a People's Party that replaced the corrupt political machine and governed the city for more than a decade before annexation by the Republican Party. Vigilance committees began popping up across the Wild West, and America's love affair with vigilantism was born.
One hundred and fifty years later, another Republican -- Schilling
-- is waging a battle against online abuse not unlike that King and his vigilante peers did against San Francisco's civic corruption. Instead of beleaguered merchants (and their armed cronies) waving the bloody shirt of indignation over the burning of their businesses, vigilantism's newest icon is best-known for a bloody sock
-- and his targets are the anonymous Internet trolls who threaten the lives of women online.
Beyond Schilling's celebrity appeal and the delicious schadenfreude of his revenge, his singular act of modern vigilantism has illuminated a moment of peak awareness of online abuse and harassment (particularly of women)
-- like a stark tabloid photograph splashed on the front page of popular culture. Schilling's highly-public, much-lauded, and mega-viral run-in with the Twitter sewer is part of a larger backlash. A moment when, both culturally and legally, a message is finally being sent to racists, abusers, and misogynists: The days of the Wild West Web are numbered.
"Having been a women who's experienced an unprecedented amount of harassment, and that he was able to get some satisfaction, it makes my heart sing with joy," says Brianna Wu, head of development at Boston-based video game studio GiantSpaceKat and a frequent target of online harassment by gamers.
Online harassment has only recently become a mainstream social issue, as its growing scale and ugliness demand media attention. The mass shooting in Isla Vista, California, by self-styled misogynist Elliot Rodger in May 2014 sparked a discussion on stalking, abuse, and male entitlement. The hashtag #YesAllWomen has spotlighted both the universal experience of digital misogyny and the most alarming corners of the
"angry white male Internet," as Ryan Broderick calls it. Author Rebecca Solnit of
"mainsplaining" fame called the hashtag a watershed moment for the national conversation on sexism and misogyny in modern America, crediting it for popularizing the concept of
"sexual entitlement." The GamerGate saga -- which includes the online assaults against Brianna Wu
-- brought the worst parts of the Internet's digital vitriol to the front page of the New York Times after a bomb threats forced feminist video game critic Anita Sarkeesian to cancel a speech at Utah State University.
While Schilling was exacting his vengeance, Wu herself forced to pull out of a recent video game conference in Boston because organizers could not guarantee her security
-- a frequent experience for the outspoken developer.
"The irony is that the past year has been so terrible but its pushed this issue to the forefront," Wu says.
"Between Anita Sarkeesian and [developer] Zoey Quinn, we've had hundreds and
hundred of death threats, and what we find frustrating is that nobody's gone to
For long-time sufferers of online harassment and cyberstalking, the attention is better late than never.
"When we started WHOA in 1997, something like 95 percent of the victims of online harassment were female and 90 percent of the perpetrators were men," says Jayne Hitchcock, who in 1996 co-founded the volunteer organization after being the victim of cyberstalking.
"When I first experienced harassment, there were simply no groups out there to
help victims, no resources available, nothing."
Activists like Wu and Hitchcock say the current conversation around the online harassment of women would have been considered impossible five years ago. And according to Wu, the American public has a real moment to address a problem that's plagued women since the dawn of the Internet.
"I look at the progress we've made -- that Twitter and other companies are getting more serious, that people like Curt Schilling are highlighting the diversity of this issue
-- I'm tremendously encouraged by this new dialogue," she says.
"Having been a women who's experienced an unprecedented amount of harassment,
and that he was able to get some satisfaction, it makes my heart sing with joy."
Law enforcement has been largely ineffectual at combating this abuse. While every state in the United States has at least one law on the books prohibiting
"cyberstalking" or "cyberharassment" (or both), police officers often fail to take threats seriously, treating harassment like the 21st century version of the prank phone call and shunting reports of online abuse into the bowels of police bureaucracy.
"I've had 48 death threats against me in the past six months," Wu says. "I've
had specific threats [from] people to blow up conferences like Pax East. It's
clearly illegal, but there's no clear chain of command, no clear jurisdiction or
sphere of responsibility within law enforcement."
There are non-criminal forms of legal recourse, as Schilling's courtroom crusade shows. Danielle Citron, a law professor at the University of Maryland Law School and a legal expert on online harassment, has noted that victims can sue their harassers in civil court using tort law
-- claiming the damages for defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and a litany of other types of harassment. But that's not available to everyone, as the Atlantic's Marlisse Sweeney wrote:
"Unless you have Jennifer Lawrence's resources this isn't exactly realistic:
Filing a case like this is a very expensive and time-consuming process, not to
mention emotionally draining."
The institutions that ostensibly exercise control over the primary means of online harassment on the Internet
-- social media -- haven't been much better at handling abuse. Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have all been accused of not taking online violence against women seriously. These companies know they're failing, too: Twitter CEO Dick Costolo recently conceded in February that Twittter
"suck[s] when dealing with abuse." (Employees at Twitter have said the company is exploring ways to take abuse more seriously, according to both Wu and Hitchcock.)
Curt Schilling is not the first person to appropriate the tools of digital hooligans
-- and the righteous drive for accountability that marked the vigilantes of old
-- to get results where public and private institutions won't. He's also not the first to make sure the public understands the ugly reality of online abuse. Collectives like Racists Getting Fired ferret out the personal information of racists, misogynists, and other Internet bottom-feeders and force-feed them the real-life consequences of their actions. One video game journalist in Brisbane, Australia, who endured weeks of violent threats tracked down the mothers of her juvenile harassers on social media and exposed them to their sons handiwork. More recently, journalist Lindy West found the troll who'd used a photo of her dead father as his digital face when threatening her life.
"Each of these instances have their own individual merit in terms of impacting
the people who were harassed," says Jamia Wilson, executive director of Women,
Action and Media. "If people are harassing other people without accountability,
that's the most problematic thing, but I don't think its negative when
individuals force institutions to hold their abusers accountable -- that's
something that's completely within their right, and it's a righteous thing to
The media has become a supportive cheerleader of the vigilante backlash against online harassment, misogyny, racism, and homophobia. Triumphs over adversity are good for clicks, especially when a deliciously quotable celebrity like Schilling is involved. The Schilling saga, after all, centered on a loving father delivering a
"perfect response" -- the atomic unit of human morality in the Internet age -- to universally horrifying behavior. It's the type of digital smackdown the Internet's vigilante-loving culture adores, like this gay couple's response to homophobic graffiti or these protesters having a kiss-in at a homophobic Burger King. These hero-bully narratives are the perfect vehicle for a whole host of political and social movements and, more important, catnip for the media. They've given the cause of online harassment new weight as a cultural grievance, and provided new justification for victims to strike back.
"There's something phenomenal happening in these sort of stories
-- there's a human face put on this experience," Wilson says.
"In the past, people conflated abuse with online bullying, which leads to an
infantilized conversation around aggression online, reducing very real emotional
abuse to a playground spat. But there are now more voices than ever pushing
back, more stories describing the abuse people have actually experiences,
showing the psychic costs of being a woman online. It really creates a visceral
portrait of abuse."
Schilling's brand of media-fueled online vigilantism isn't just about doling out justice. The very fact that these sorts of stories go viral on such a large scale makes them exercises in norm enforcement, a re-assertion that the abuse of women is unacceptable and Internet trolling has real-life consequences. Schilling himself identified the disconnect that makes his revenge so effective and culturally appealing:
"This is a generation of kids who have grown up behind the monitor and keyboard.
The real world has consequences when you do and say things about others.... What
part of talking about a young woman, my daughter or not, makes you even consider
the possibility that this is either funny or makes you tough?"
Even when the offender seems like a worthy target, vigilantism doesn't always pause to make sure the punishment fits the crime.
It's oddly appropriate that Schilling speaks from his cultural throne of Big Jock Bro: It makes his Perfect Response and his threats of legal action all the more salient. He's speaking from the culture of misogyny, to the culture of misogyny, and doing so with the adulation of the entire Internet.
"I was a jock my whole life," Schilling wrote. "I know clubhouses. I lived in a
dorm. I get it. Guys will be guys. Guys will say dumb crap, often. But I can't
ever remember, drunk, in a clubhouse, with best friends, with anyone, ever
speaking like this to someone."
The locker-room eloquence of Schilling's backlash -- and the unusual sight of a Hall of Fame jock taking on Internet misogyny
-- gives his crusade a simple, compelling storyline. But as the full story of San Francisco's pioneering vigilantes makes clear, revenge can be a complicated dish, especially when served hot.
While the first Committee of Vigilance in 1851 faced a clear threat with righteous action to save lives and protect property, the motivation and tactics of its 1856 successor are more muddIed. King, the assassinated journalist, had used his editorials to create a
"near-panic psychology" concerning municipal crime, despite the fact that California newspapers reported that the organ of law enforcement had crime well under control during that time period. While the vigilance committee did methodically collect evidence of election fraud and municipal corruption before whipping and exiling the goons of the city's reigning political machine, this was not a precursor to democratic change. It was more like a coup, with the vigilantes becoming the new bosses.
This captures a fundamental problem with digital vigilantism: Sometimes the pitchforks and torches create injustice, rather than rectifying it. There have been some appalling instances of this in recent years: In 2012, an elderly Florida couple was deluged with threats after director Spike Lee sent a Twitter message containing their address to his 240,000 followers, thinking it belonged to George Zimmerman. But there are also more everyday infractions, like the tale of Justine Sacco, the hapless PR professional who posted a clumsy attempt at humor about AIDS, Africa, and race, and found herself the target of an international online takedown.
"The collective fury felt righteous, powerful and effective," journalist Jonathan Ronson wrote in the New York Times Magazine in reference to the firestorm that engulfed Sacco.
"It felt as if hierarchies were being dismantled, as if justice were being
democratized. As time passed, though, I watched these shame campaigns multiply,
to the point that they targeted not just powerful institutions and public
figures but really anyone perceived to have done something offensive. I also
began to marvel at the disconnect between the severity of the crime and the
gleeful savagery of the punishment."
Even when the offender seems like a worthy target, vigilantism doesn't always pause to make sure the punishment fits the crime. Lindsey Stone, a Massachusetts woman who posed for a photo while pretending to scream and flashing the middle finger next to a sign demanding
"Silence and Respect" at Arlington National Cemetery's Tomb of the Unknowns, claimed the tasteless gesture was part of a running joke with a friend, and she hadn't realized her Facebook photos were public for the world to see. But the photo went viral and cost Stone her job amid a wave of vituperation. According to the New York Times, the incident affected Stone so badly that
"she rarely left home for the year that followed, racked by PTSD, depression and
For activists like Jayne Hitchcock, Brianna Wu, and Jamia Wilson, the viral appeal of Curt Schilling's epic bro-down signals a cultural change in how the Internet thinks and talks about online abuse. But it also suggests a deeper truth: That online abuse will only begin to recede if that cultural awareness filters into the institutions that can actually affect lasting systemic change.
Five myths about college sports
By Murray A. Sperber March 13
Murray A. Sperber teaches in the Cultural Studies of Sport in Education program in the University of California at Berkeley's Graduate School of Education and is the author of four books on college sports, including
"Beer and Circus."
The NCAA's annual men's basketball tournament, which starts Tuesday, is both a great athletic contest and a crassly commercial enterprise
-- a dichotomy common to college sports that has led to legal and ethical questions about whether student athletes should be paid and organized like professional employees of their universities. Even aside from the confused status of student athletes, college sports is burdened with myths. Here are five of the most common ones.
1. College sports provide enormous profits for schools.
College athletics generate eye-popping sums of money. The NCAA sold 14 years of TV rights to its March tournament for $10.8 billion in 2010, and athletic programs routinely generate more than $20 million per year for a school in ticket sales. In 2013, the University of Texas athletic department pulled in $165.7 million. It's logical to think that the universities' non-athletic programs benefit from all that money. Even the Chronicle of Higher Education has made the connection, writing that
"there is no revenue in training doctors and lawyers, [but] colleges and
universities make a substantial, direct and immediate income from their student
In fact, most schools lose money on their sports operations, as the NCAA confirms in its financial reports. Extravagant compensation for athletic department employees, especially coaches, as well as waste and mismanagement leave many programs in the red. In 2009, Duke's highly successful men's basketball team lost $2 million , Florida Atlantic University had a profit margin of minus 253.7 percent, and Louisiana Tech posted one of minus 306.9 percent. Schools including Rice, Tulane and Colorado State all lost more than $1 million on their men's basketball programs that year. When a sport does turn a profit, that money is far more likely to stay in the athletic department, subsidizing other sports, than to fund academic programs.
2. Title IX has allowed women to participate equally in college sports.
In many ways, Title IX, the law prohibiting gender-based discrimination in schools, has succeeded. When it was implemented in 1972, just 16,000 women played college sports; today the number is more than 200,000.
But in one glaring way, the law's passage has seen equality for women in sports decrease: coaching. As of 2012, only 43 percent of women's college teams were led by women, down from more than 90 percent in 1972, the year two former professors began tracking the numbers. Title IX created higher salaries for the coaches of women's programs
-- and the better pay ended up attracting men to those positions. Judy Sweet, the first woman to be president of the NCAA, has said she doesn't expect the downward trend to stop:
"It requires breaking this cycle of male university presidents hiring male board
members hiring male athletic directors hiring male coaches."
And even the presence of men has not led to pay parity for the coaches of women's programs. The average salary for a coach of an NCAA Division I men's team was $267,007 in 2010. Coaches of women's teams on average earned $98,106.
3. Multimillion-dollar coaching salaries help teams win.
The University of Michigan has high hopes for head football coach Jim Harbaugh. The school lured him from the San Francisco 49ers by matching his NFL salary
-- $5 million a year -- and adding a $2 million signing bonus and performance incentives. The Wolverines expect that he'll help them win the Big Ten and take them to the College Football Playoff. The previous coach, Brady Hoke (who was making $2.8 million per year), was fired in December after the team finished with a losing record.
That happens all the time in college sports: Losing coaches are dumped and replaced with more expensive ones.
"Schools justify these salaries on the grounds that it's a competitive marketplace, that they have to pay to get a good coach," says Andrew Zimbalist, an economist with a focus on sports.
But the coaching arms race doesn't pay off. New hires often produce poorer records than the coaches they replace
-- in short, they are paid more for losing more games. A 2012 study following the highest-paid football and men's basketball coaches over six seasons showed that replacing a coach with a higher-compensated one resulted mostly in no short-term change
-- most of the teams that were not ranked in the top 25 did not climb into that echelon with the new coach. In fact, 20 percent of the new hires triggered
"short-term downward mobility," meaning their teams fell in ranking, sometimes dropping out of the top 25 altogether. In the longer term, over four seasons, the numbers were comparable.
4. Sports generate great publicity for schools.
Countless publications and entire TV networks cover college sports, and schools pay nothing for those sweeping shots of campus broadcast during big games. Applications tend to spike for schools appearing in the NCAA men's basketball tournament.
"We couldn't afford to buy the kind of exposure our team earned," Butler athletic director Barry Collier said of the school's surprise success in the 2010 tournament. George Mason University estimated that its 2006 tournament run won it $677 million worth of free publicity.
But when scandals occur on or off the field, the media does not disappear
-- in fact, more reporters arrive on campus -- and the bad PR costs schools dearly. After enjoying years of good press for its athletics, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is now being roiled by a massive academic fraud scandal in its athletic program. At least one top recruit to the men's basketball team says the scandal has made him hesitate about committing to UNC, and the university made the unprecedented move of hiring a vice chancellor for communications and public affairs
-- a former spokesman for Disney -- at the cost of $300,000 a year. That sum pales next to the $3.2 million Penn State had spent as of 2012 on investigations, PR and legal advice as a result of its child sex abuse scandal. This does not include the $60 million fine levied by the NCAA.
5. College sports bring in alumni donations.
College presidents and school officials frequently explain their obeisance to their athletic departments by saying that without big-time sports programs, they'd never get any money out of their alumni. As Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt told the Wall Street Journal,
"Nothing can unify a community and alumni base of a university like college
While some studies have shown that winning can have a positive effect on alumni giving, others have shown no correlation or even that a winning record can decrease donations. A more general examination of alumni showed that the economy and news stories about an alma mater most strongly influence giving among young alumni; athletic performance ranked lowest, along with diversity initiatives. The U.S. News & World Report annual college rankings for schools with the highest percentage of alumni who give are filled with schools that do not play big-time football or basketball. Small liberal arts colleges, almost all in Division III, post the best numbers.
Money shuts out youth baseball team from using public field
The L.A. Bulldogs youth baseball program has always struggled financially in its hard-pressed corner of east Hollywood.
Parents and community supporters raise enough money for uniforms and equipment by selling caramel apples, jalapeno cheese popcorn and bottled water so their kids can play at Lemon Grove Recreation Center
-- on a ball field created as part of the Dodgers Dreamfields program.
But this year the team is being locked out of the Dreamfield by the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks. The city said it sold the rights to use the field during the premium weekday hours of 6 to 9 p.m. to a girls softball league founded by parents in the upscale Hancock Park area of Los Angeles.
"Money talks," Bulldogs coach Miguel Jimenez said Thursday night of the permits snatched up by the Wilshire Girls Softball Assn. Behind him, his team assembled for practice on a 20-foot-wide strip of grass between the ballpark perimeter fence and a parking lot.
The Bulldogs had always played on the field for free, while the girls league paid hundreds of dollars a year for permits to use the park at certain times. This year, the league bought up all available time slots
-- and the city advised Bulldog supporters not to try for a permit because all the slots were taken.
On Thursday, as their parents watched from an adjacent curb, the Bulldogs
-- ages 8 to 12 -- tossed balls back and forth beside parked cars and swatted balls against the Dreamfield's chain-link fence from three feet away.
Inside the park, parents of the Wilshire Girls Softball team gathered on the grandstands to watch their daughters perfect their pitching, batting and base-running skills under the Dreamfield's towering floodlights.
"It's tough to keep kids interested in baseball under these conditions," said Chris Barksdale, pastor at Hope Hollywood Church and father of an 11-year-old Bulldog.
"It was bad enough that we don't compete for big trophies because we can't
afford to play in those tournaments."
Rose Watson, a spokeswoman for the parks department, declined to comment except to say,
"Everyone has the opportunity to permit our facilities when they are available."
After inquiries by The Times, however, city officials on Thursday notified the Bulldogs that the field was available from 6 to 9 p.m. Mondays and from 8 to 9 p.m. Wednesdays
-- provided the team pays $436 for a permit.
"We can't afford both of those days," said Johanna Samiento, who is in charge of the Bulldogs' finances.
"We've already spent most of our budget on baseball bats, balls and uniforms."
"The bottom line is this," she said. "They're killing baseball. Only those who
can afford it will be able to play in a Dreamfield."
In an interview Friday, Adam Glickman, president of the Wilshire team, said he plans to seek approval from his board of directors to donate a portion of his team's Friday night slot to the Bulldogs.
"I sympathize with the Bulldogs," Glickman said. "There are some unfortunate
realities in running a sports league in the middle of the city."
Glickman added that he doesn't believe "there was malice or monkey business by
the city. It was just a misunderstanding that should be easily rectified."
He said the recreation center asked him a few days ago "if I had a problem with
local kids playing on the field out behind an inside fence where there's a
batting cage and some green space. I said, by all means, I have no problem with
None of that conversation, however, had reached Bulldog players or their parents. They said that a week ago city workers turned on sprinklers to force the team off the grass.
"The last time they locked us out I asked park administrators for an explanation," Barksdale said.
"They said it was a liability issue. I pointed out that we are fully insured.
But they wouldn't budge."
Among those locked out was Juliana Jimenez, 12, who lives a few blocks away.
"I don't get it," Jimenez said. "We grew up here. We're the neighborhood
The Dodgers Dreamfields program is operated by the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation with a goal of providing baseball fields where youngsters can learn the game in a program administered by the city or county in a safe environment.
The Bulldogs have learned to take advantage of opportunities to use the field, such as one that arose at 7:30 Thursday night: The Wilshire team left the field after 11/2 hours of practice and Lemon Grove administrators were nowhere in sight.
The Bulldogs trotted onto the field and played ball for an hour.