Softball Mom Contacts Pair of Federal Agencies About Lights

Highland Park's Katie Bell fires in a pitch during the March 19 game against West Mesquite. The game was played before sundown, as all of the Lady Scots’ home games are. (Staff photo: Chris McGathey)

If you drive by the Highland Park High School softball field after sundown, you won’t hear bats clinking or fans cheering.

That’s because lighting for the field has never been approved by the city of University Park, and it’s irking some parents.

Susan LaSalle, mother of the varsity softball captain, sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice on March 9 to voice her concern.

“The city has refused to allow the Highland Park School District to erect lights on the girls’ softball field, resulting in Highland Park not being in compliance with Title IX,” LaSalle said in the letter. She estimates that the JV baseball team is able to play a full schedule of approximately 25 games, but the JV softball team plays only 10 or so games due to the lack of lights. She claims the JV softball team can never play on its own field, because the varsity team plays during daylight hours.

University Park spokesman Steve Mace said the mayor and City Council are aware of LaSalle’s letter. A copy was also sent to the city attorney.

The school district took the issue to the UP Planning and Zoning Commission in April 2011. The commission unanimously denied the request, due to neighbors’ concerns about increased noise and light that night games would cause. The issue never reached the City Council, and it has not been presented to the commission since.

“There is no active application on that project,” Mace said.

But that soon may change.

“The district is continuing to work on a proposal for lighting for the softball field and tennis courts,” HPISD spokeswoman Helen Williams said.

LaSalle, who lives a few blocks southwest of the field, first took her letter to the U.S. Department of Education. But the agency has jurisdiction over the school district, not the city. However, her complaint is still considered to be “under investigation.”

Her next step was filing with the Department of Justice. For now, it seems to be a second dead-end. She has received only an automated email stating her complaint was received. LaSalle suspects this is because the Department of Justice doesn’t have a Dallas office, like the Department of Education does.

“To us, it’s for the girls and the program,” LaSalle said. “In order for them to get the experience they need, they’ve got to be able to play those games.”

According to city secretary Liz Spector, any compliance issues with Title IX would fall under the school district’s jurisdiction, not the city government’s. Spector said the letter has been discussed privately with the council and the city attorney.

“It would just be nice for the city and the school district to do the right thing,” LaSalle said. “Nothing’s going to change this year, but at least we’re getting the ball rolling.”

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