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Originally published Saturday, February 21, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Proposed bill urges level playing field in community sports, too

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Northwest Women's Law Center are supporting state legislation that would prohibit a city, county or district from discriminating against anyone on the basis of sex in the operation of community athletics programs.

Seattle Times staff reporter

OLYMPIA — Colleen Kirsten remembers less than a decade ago playing Little League softball in Sammamish and wondering why the boys baseball team always got nicer jerseys and bags. Their playing fields were better, too, she says.

Despite a growing interest in female sports nationwide, sports-equity supporters believe opportunities for girls are unfairly stifled by community sports programs that don't provide equal opportunity for both sexes.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Northwest Women's Law Center are supporting state legislation to prohibit a city, county or district from discriminating against anyone on the basis of sex in the operation of community athletic programs.

The federal Title IX law passed in 1972 requires publicly funded schools to provide equal athletic opportunities regardless of gender. Washington state adopted its own version of Title IX in 1975.

But neither the federal nor state law extends to community athletic programs for children and adults. Senate Bill 5967, sponsored by state Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, is aimed at filling that gap.

Kohl-Welles is a longtime advocate for female sports equality and an expert on Title IX.

Mary Dodsworth, president of Washington Recreation and Parks Association, says the group has concerns about the current version of the bill because of the burden it would place on small communities to monitor outside leagues for discrimination.

She said her organization is working with committee staff members on possible changes to the legislation.

Janet Chung, staff attorney for the Northwest Women's Law Center, which advocates for the rights of women and girls, said the bill would establish equal access to sporting equipment, supplies, facilities and the assignment of coaches and game officials in such programs.

Linda Mangel, sports-equity advocate for the ACLU, said unfair treatment can be found all over the state. For example, she said, in one Skagit County town, the baseball fields used by the boys teams have power, water, permanent restrooms and dressing areas while the girls softball field has portable toilets and no electricity or other amenities.

"They say they're equal, but find me a baseball program that is willing to trade fields with a softball program. Nobody would say 'yes,' " she said.

Dewey Potter, a spokeswoman for Seattle Parks and Recreation, said she's not aware of discrimination in Seattle community sports programs. Some people have complained that scheduling is unfair, she said, but that's usually the result of scheduling teams based on historical usage. She said the organization is "looking at fixing that now."

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Potter said Seattle Parks and Recreation opposes the bill because it also would require that cities refuse to rent out facilities to leagues that are discriminatory. "We don't control the leagues, so it doesn't seem reasonable to make us liable," she said.

She said the city has no problem with complying with rules that address programs it does control.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a similar bill into law in 2004, after the ACLU filed several lawsuits against cities for discriminating against female athletes.

The Senate Government Operations and Elections Committee has scheduled a hearing on the bill Monday.

Chantal Anderson: 360-236-8266 or canderson@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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