High school, Little League field turf issues challenging for most needy user

By Jay Bedecarre on May 5, 2014

CVLL Challenger_for websiteA growing tension between users of Clayton Valley Charter High School’s baseball and softball fields boiled over recently when a weekend high school girls softball recruiting program bumped the local little league’s scheduled Challenger program to one small field on Sunday, April 13.

CVCHS has three baseball and softball fields off Academy Road that have served Clayton Valley Little League for 40 years, as well as the high school and a club softball program.

In recent years a growing stress between the users competing for time on the fields has frayed nerves, resulted in Title IX complaints. Last month’s incident has been extensively reported and debated in social media and local blogs with the two “sides” having very different perspectives on what happened that Sunday afternoon, when the CVLL Challenger program was moved onto a single field during the 2-4 p.m. time slot they had reserved to host games for five teams, including two from outside their league.

Agreement to share fields

Little League International established the Challenger Division in 1989 as a separate division of Little League to enable boys and girls with physical and mental challenges, ages 4-18, or up to age 22 if still enrolled in high school, to enjoy the game of baseball. More than 30,000 children participate in Challenger Divisions worldwide and locally CVLL has five Challenger teams that play games among themselves and with teams from neighboring leagues in District 4.

On the weekend of April 12-13, the high school’s varsity softball coach, Kristin “Mo” Morley, was running a two-day CVCHS College Showcase for girls from eighth grade to juniors in high school. The showcase allowed the girls to be evaluated in a number of skills, similar to what you would see at a pro football combine. The program attracted about 150 players coming from Utah, Nevada, Arizona and Oregon as well as throughout California.

Morley has been part of the CVCHS softball program for five years. She also runs a girls softball club, the Bears, which rents the high school fields extensively.

On April 1, high school athletic director Amber Lineweaver contacted little league representatives by email requesting they relinquish their permits to use fields on the showcase weekend. By April 4 little league officials were able to reschedule everything set for the on-campus fields except for the Challenger games on Sunday, partially because those games need to be on fields that are ADA complaint. The league suggested that the showcase conclude by 1:30 Sunday in order to solve the field use issue.

School and CVLL officials met on Monday, April 7, primarily to discuss a financial settlement for the league to vacate its snack shack and storage building on the high school grounds. A figure of $18,000 was verbally agreed to by both parties. Executive Director Dave Linzey and administrator Pat Middendorf, who oversees CVCHS operations and athletics, were on hand. Representing CVLL were president Kevin Christiansen, VP Kevin Dern and long-time board member David Shuey, a Clayton city council member.

It was inevitable that at that pre-scheduled meeting the weekend showcase was discussed and it was agreed again that the Challengers would have use from 2- 4 p.m. of two fields the league designates as Minor B and Major Division. (CVCHS calls the Major Division field its varsity softball field and a third field that CVLL calls Minor A as the junior varsity softball field.)

It is not a new relationship. For the past 40 years the little league has developed and maintained those fields. Due to the Title IX issues raised at the end of last year CVCHS spent about $10,000 upgrading the JV softball field before this spring’s season.

The expansion of the high school campus by an estimated 500 students for the upcoming school year was proposed early this year to take place where the Minor B and Major (varsity) fields are located. Those plans resulted in CVLL rescheduling many of its practices and games for the current season at other sites due to the uncertainty over the expansion project. That projects has since been shelved by the CVCHS Governing Board for the 2014-15 school year, according to Linzey.

Communication gaps on game day

The showcase went on as scheduled on Saturday, April 12, with about 40 girls taking part. Sunday’s showcase turnout was nearly triple that with 110 players in attendance. The showcase began at 8 a.m. using both fields.

Knowing the size of Sunday’s expected turnout and seeing the actual setup of the showcase, on Saturday evening Morley attempted to contact people she had worked with in the past with the Challenger program. It turns out none of those people are directly involved with CVLL and she never connected with anyone to discuss consolidating or canceling the Challenger games on Sunday.

A little after 1 p.m. on Sunday, with the showcase well underway, Morley didn’t see a lot of Challenger families or players at the site so she approached some parents in the parking lot. She said she “got the feeling that sometimes there were not as many players as originally anticipated at games” so the high school coach asked if the Challengers could combine their two games onto the smaller Minor B field so the showcase could continue on the two larger softball fields.

Eventually as 2 p.m. approached, the Challengers crowd grew. Players and families from five teams (four were scheduled for the two games and another CVLL team, the Cardinals, also came out to take part) arrived. CVLL teams were the A’s #1, A’s #2 and Cardinals.

By then Board member Shuey had been called and Jim Brophy, who now manages the A’s #1 and was the driving force behind the league’s Challenger program for nearly 20 years, had phone and in-person discussions with Morley, some of which have been described as heated.

Morley told them that she had the authority to move the Challenger program onto the single smaller field if that would accommodate the players on hand so that the softball showcase could be maintained on the two larger fields they had been using all weekend.

CVLL reps ‘steaming’

Eventually the Challengers played only on the Minor B field; the visiting Walnut Creek Giants team left and CVLL officials were left steaming about the move. The league’s board subsequently met, drafted a letter to Linzey and then issued an 850-word open letter to all its members and the media outlining how they felt strongly that an agreement made just six days before the Challenger games had “been breached” by the high school.

Since then Linzey has met together with Morley, assistant CVCHS softball coach Dave Cooney and Brophy. Both parties remain firm in their versions of the day. Linzey says he and Morley have been preparing a letter to send to CVLL and the Challenger families. The league says it “cannot move forward” until the incident has been “formally reviewed, acknowledged and accounted for.”

Morley says “she feels horrible” about the final outcome.

Linzey says he has a pretty good understanding of what happened and that “I’m broken-hearted that the Challenger families had this negative experience. They were entitled to use two fields that day.”

He added that he doesn’t believe Morley had any “bad motives’’ when she made her determination that the Challengers would fit on one field. Linzey notes that she discussed the situation at 1:15 p.m. with people she thought were in a position of authority to make a decision about field use.

League supports High School Expansion

The little league board thanked Linzey is its open letter: “We have full confidence in Mr. Linzey as he has demonstrated he is a person of high character who puts the needs of students first.” CVLL says it is “very much behind CVCHS’s continued growth, expansion and ensuring that every student-athlete is able to participate in equal settings.”

The little league has tabled discussions about the financial settlement with the school on their move. Christiansen says they have spent more than $30,000 this year preparing, equipping and moving to different fields in Clayton and Concord due to the loss of those on the CVCHS campus. (The school is not charging them for on-campus field use this year due to the timing of the changes.) His board was especially troubled since the agreement and follow up about the Challenger schedule took place only six days before April 13 so that there should not have been any misunderstanding.

The conflicting interpretations of what did and should have happened April 13 vary tremendously between the two groups but mending those fences may be even more of a Major League challenge than reconciling the facts of the Challenger incident.

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