Gresham — When you pull up at Sam Barlow High School, it sends the impression of a secure, modern campus that provides excellent facilities for students. A beautiful 1,500 seat capacity football stadium, state of the art campus design and security, beautiful tennis courts, and a quality baseball facility all send out those impressions. However, stuffed between the baseball field and tennis courts, lies a softball field with dead grass, safety hazards present on the playing surface, and a facility that has been left behind with the newest renovations at Barlow High School. This belongs to the seven consecutive time Mount Hood Conference Champion Barlow Bruins softball team. While the Gresham-Barlow School District (GBSD) has plans to make progress, the larger issues at hand are ones that are widely considered Title IX violations.
Following a few tips dropped about the state of affairs at Barlow, I made the trip out to Gresham to see the situation for myself and from the second I pulled into the school, I observed how the facility quality compares to that of the rest of the school. Immediately, you notice the dead grass that has swallowed the outfield and the area beyond the fence. This is due to their irrigation system being disabled during construction related to a passed school bond measure, and combined with Oregon’s ongoing extreme drought, it has taken an awful toll on the softball field. By stark contrast, the baseball field is green as a leprechaun. In softball’s case, the coaching staff has had manually water the grass and surface, which requires 2-3 hours to do the whole field properly.
Baseball is equipped with amenities that softball lacks: stadium lights, a press box, proper netting for foul balls, and a proper storage for equipment. Softball has no press box and doesn’t have stadium lights either, while the netting for foul balls in completely torn and waves in the wind. Additionally, the storage shed that used to be used for the team has been torn down and they currently use the home dugout to store equipment.
Finally, the playing surface has a couple of issues going on with it. Next to the visitors dugout and first base, there are good size gashes in the playing surface that present safety hazards if a player trying to field the ball trips over it or gets stuck in it. It can also trip up players headed from the dugout to the field and vice versa, presenting a risk of injury. In right field, there are two huge concrete slabs sitting next to the fence in foul territory. With cleats, this can cause a fielder to slip and fall or trip on the surface, potentially causing serious injury if they hit their head or tear any muscles/ligaments.
With all of these glaring issues, one might ask exactly what the Gresham-Barlow School District has done about it. I secured a pair of interviews with Mr. John Koch, who oversees the school operations of the GBSD, speaking to him via phone interview in an effort to dig deeper into these inequities. Mr. Koch was able to give explanations on the disabled irrigation, concrete in the outfield, and updates on the shed and foul ball netting. According to Mr. Koch, the irrigation system is scheduled to be reactivated in the near future, while the concrete slabs in right field will be removed after being brought to the attention of the district. Mr. Koch also said that the storage shed will be rebuilt as part of a class project involving a construction class at Barlow, providing a hands on experience for students while also fulfilling a need of the program. Additionally, he stated that the district has purchased new netting for foul balls with installment to be determined at a later date.
Speaking with sources familiar with the program, they told Elite Oregon Girls that during the bond construction, there were old lights removed from the football field and that volunteers were willing to install them for the team to use them. However, according to the sources, the school district didn’t allow it to proceed and they were never installed for softball use despite the glaring Title IX violation. Bringing this up to Mr. Koch, he said that while he wasn’t sure of the specifics behind this situation, that any addition of a press box and/or lights for the softball field would likely require another school bond to address it.
To their credit, the Gresham-Barlow School District is taking small steps to address inequities between Barlow’s baseball and softball facilities. This credit is aided by the transparency of Mr. Koch, who oversees all the school operations in the district. However, lingering Title IX issues still remain and there is no ability to see them being eradicated in the near future. Regardless of how Barlow’s baseball team acquired their stadium lights or press box, the law is clear that schools must provide equal opportunities to both genders. The inability to have the flexibility of hosting night games, especially early in the spring season, along with an inability to host certain types of media or other individuals in acceptable spaces, all the while baseball has the complete and total flexibility to do so is not only unfair, it violates federal Title IX law. Its critical that no matter the progress made, that accountability is pressed on and maintained until equality has been achieved either by voluntary compliance or by the force of enforcement.