High school softball team calls foul on field conditions, 2 years after Title IX complaint

May 23, 2023, 11:36 PM | Updated: May 24, 2023, 5:52 am

BOUNTIFUL, Utah —While the softball season at Viewmont High School is over, a battle on the ball field continues.

It’s a battle that began in 2021, when the team’s former assistant coach, Mike Embrey, filed a Title IX complaint with the federal Office of Civil Rights.

Battle for equity

“We tried to go through the school district,” Embrey said. “We talked to him many times, talked to the Title IX compliance officer many times, our parents have called in.”

The complaint? The softball field was in disrepair: exposed dugouts, a bullpen overgrown with weeds, and dead, patchy grass in the outfield.

The conditions were so bad, one of the Viewmont home games this season had to be played at the away team’s field.

“If you take a look at what our sports are in comparison with some of the boys’ sports that we have at our school, there’s a huge comparison and discrepancy between the two,” Embrey explained.

The boys’ baseball field looked pretty good, with a brand-new press box, covered dugout, new infield, and lush, green grass.

The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) agreed there was inequity.

In October 2021, Davis School District entered into a resolution agreement, that over the next couple of years, repairs would be made to make the field more equitable with the boys’ baseball facilities.

The promises came with a timeline. The following improvements were supposed to be completed before the start of the 2023 spring season:

  • Sprinkler system installed on its own line dedicated to the softball field
  • Enclosed dugouts with a storage space attached
  • Bullpens on home and visiting sides
  • Covered and securable batting cage
  • Existing storage shed repaired or new shed to house UTV
  • PA/sound system
  • New backstop to prevent balls from hitting cars and private property

While some other required items have been finished, Embrey said most of this list has not been completed.

“It’s not fair for the girls that are seniors this year,” said Embrey. “That’s not fair to the girls that this is their last season.” Embrey lamented that every time he and other parents have reached out to school officials to ask about the progress of these promises, they can’t get answers.

“They act like they’ve never heard of some of these complaints,” Embrey said. “Can’t get answers, which is why we’ve reached out to [KSL Investigators].”

Fixing mistakes

The KSL Investigators first contacted the Davis School District in early April for comment.

For several weeks, we were told the district could not or would not comment on the situation until they heard from OCR investigators on their progress with the resolution agreement.

As the softball season wound down, district spokesperson, Chris Williams, finally agreed to an interview.

“First off, I want to say this field is not what we ever envisioned would happen,” Williams said. “This is a situation that we would never want anyone to play on. We’re making progress.” Sprinklers are finally being installed. Williams said the district is working on a plan to complete the rest of the renovations.

Williams said part of the problem stemmed from watering too little during last summer’s hot conditions—it killed the field.

“There were lots of mistakes made, no doubt about it,” he said.

We reached out to OCR to confirm if Davis School District was adhering to the resolution agreement. In a statement, their spokesperson wrote, “OCR can confirm that case 08-21-1240 is in monitoring and OCR cannot discuss any case-specific information, including OCR’s monitoring activities, the implementation of the agreement or the district’s actions.”

‘There’s still a lot to accomplish’

Title IX was enacted in 1972 to address discrimination on the basis of sex in education. That includes school sports.

As a former athletic director for Salt Lake Community College, Norma Carr has been a lifelong advocate for women’s equality in sports.

“(Title IX) has worked, things are somewhat better,” said Carr, “but there’s still a lot to accomplish.”

Things like the Viewmont softball field.

“If I’m a person looking for equity, and I looked at the baseball field that I’ve provided, that softball field would pale in a lot of respects,” Carr said. “The outfield is a sham.”

Carr said in the past, school administrators who didn’t fix minor complaints wound up paying a lot more to make sports equitable once the feds got involved.

“Years ago, there was a high school that bought new uniforms for one of the male sports,” Carr said. “The women asked for some new uniforms and never got them. Well, eventually, it got to a Title IX investigation, and when they got through, it was locker rooms. It was playing fields. It was a lot of things, and it was a lot of dollars.” Even though Title IX has been in place for 50 years, Carr said problems with equity usually end up being a battle.

“They’re hoping you’re gonna go away, and usually parents do go away as soon as their kid goes away,” Carr said. “The bottom line is I would give them one more chance to review it and give deadlines, but if your deadlines aren’t met, and they aren’t doing anything about it, I’d ask to have it investigated.” Title IX complaints can be filed here.

According to OCR, there are 14 pending Title IX investigations at Utah elementary, middle, high schools and post-secondary colleges and universities.

Have you experienced something you think just isn’t right? The KSL Investigators want to help. Submit your tip at investigates@ksl.com or 385-707-6153 so we can get working for you.

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High school softball team calls foul on field conditions, 2 years after Title IX complaint