PORTLAND, Ore. — At Westview High School in Beaverton, the softball team is second to none. Like their male counterparts who play baseball, the girls have a well-maintained softball field with an electronic scoreboard, a permanent fencing around the outfield, a press box and covered dugouts.
Getting to this point has not been easy.
“We started with just a slab of dirt and a backstop in 1994,” explained Ronda McKenzie, Westview’s first and only head softball coach. “When they build a new school, they slap up something for you and then it is kind of up to you to create the rest.”
Over nearly three decades, McKenzie — along with parents — has pushed to level the playing field.
In 2014, softball moms told the school board they believed the girls’ softball facilities at Westview violated Title IX, the federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. In response, improvements were made to the softball batting cage to match the boys' facilities.
“I think the inequity in facilities, baseball and softball for example, they were never intentional but to fix them you have to be intentional,” explained McKenzie.
To better understand how girls’ softball compares to boys’ baseball, KGW sent surveys to high school coaches and athletic directors throughout Oregon.
Of the 156 surveys returned, four out of 10 respondents said there were noticeable differences in the dugouts for girls’ softball versus boys’ baseball. Some high schools had wooden benches for girls and metal benches for boys. A few schools had covered dugouts for baseball and uncovered dugouts for softball.
The other difference: scoreboards. Three of 10 respondents said there were noticeable differences between softball and baseball scoreboards. Some were electronic while others were not, and a few scoreboards just didn’t work.
Overall, the vast majority of coaches and athletic directors — 88% — said softball and baseball are treated equally when factoring in equipment, transportation, field condition and facilities.
In a few instances, coaches and athletic directors felt softball had better, newer facilities than baseball.
“I think people are starting to get it,” said Debbie Engelstad, head softball coach at Grant High School in Portland. “There needs to be that lens of equity whether you are in a school building or an athletic field. You need to be thinking of everyone.”
Engelstad admits getting to where we are now has been a struggle, often requiring appeals to district leaders and even lawsuits.
“It takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of energy. It takes a lot of frustration and tears. You just kind of keep fighting the fight,” she said.
In 2017, the Lake Oswego School District agreed to make improvements for the high school softball team after several players filed a Title IX lawsuit in federal court.
Last year, coach Engelstad and several players filed a similar lawsuit against Portland Public Schools, due to the lack of softball facilities at Grant. Unlike boys’ baseball, the Grant girls spent decades playing on a dirt field at Wilshire Park, more than a mile away.
As part of a settlement agreement, the softball team will finally get the field they were promised at Grant High School. Construction is due to be finished by early summer.
“In the end it is going to happen,” Engelstad said, looking over the new turf field complete with lights, an electronic scoreboard and batting cage. “It gives my players over all these years some empowerment in realizing they can speak their voice. When things don’t look right, they have a voice.”