Originally created 12/20/97

High school downsizes boys athletic program



MERRITT ISLAND, Fla. -- Forced by a court to have equal playing fields for both sexes, Merritt Island High School has decided to tear down existing amenities for the boys rather than build new ones for the girls.

As a result, the baseball field scoreboard will be disconnected, the baseball concession stand will close and some baseball field bleachers will be roped off.

"If there was money available, we would try to have a softball field as good or better than the boys ... but finances are just too tight" said principal Henry Smith.

The school board came up with the equalizing plan this week -- a month after a federal judge ruled that Merritt Island High School's ball facilities violated the federal law that bans sex discrimination in public schools. As of Friday, Judge Anne Conway hadn't decided whether to approve the plan.

Unlike the boys' baseball field, the girls' softball field doesn't have an electronic scoreboard or a free-standing concession stand. It lacks as much bleacher seating.

"Softball has not been established as baseball until recent years," Smith said. "It's a problem statewide."

The judge said the school's facilities favor boys over girls and effectively makes the softball squad "second-class citizens." She called for a plan to add lights, a scoreboard, bleachers and bathroom access to the girls' softball facilities by Jan. 26, the beginning of softball tryouts.

Daniel Daniels filed the lawsuit this fall on behalf of his twin daughters, Jessica and Jennifer, who play on the girl's softball team.

A subsequent class-action lawsuit was filed last week on behalf of 12 students and their parents seeking equal sports facilities and opportunities throughout Brevard County's school system.