Thursday, July 18, 2024

The girls’ Danehy 3 softball field is gravel, meaning players can’t slide, and has poor drainage, players and coaches say. (Photo: Marc Levy)

A report identifying what each recreational field in Cambridge is used for and how they’re equipped to do it is expected to reveal that girls’ sports are still undervalued – proving what seems known universally.

By the end of Monday’s conversation about the policy order – when city councillors voted unanimously not only to get a report back at an Aug. 1 special meeting but to all be listed as cosponsors – councillor E. Denise Simmons felt obliged to note that “there’s been a lot of discussion about the disparity of the use of the fields by women, although I don’t see it in the policy order.”

Simmons went on to add her own element to the simple order, returning to a yearslong refrain that more city fields should be named after women, though in November she moved to name a new playground after departing city manager Louis A. DePasquale and defeated an attempt to include honors for a groundbreaking female disability rights advocate and Harvard alum. “Not only is the field important, but what the field is called,” Simmons said Monday.

Other speakers and officials emphasized the qualities of the fields rather than their names. The softball fields Danehy 2 and Danehy 3 – their designations at Danehy Park in Neighborhood 9 – came in for special attention as young players testified to how their games are affected in ways boys’ aren’t.

“None of my teammates or players on the other teams can slide safely, because instead of dirt or sand, the infield has gravel. Many times our games have ended early because our fields don’t have lights. The benches on the softball field are falling apart if they’re wooden, or are missing screws if they’re metal. Most games I get splinters on my legs, or one of my teammates gets her hand or fingers stuck in the bench,” said Carolyn Lichtenstein, 10, an Amigos student and softball player.

An audience bench at Danehy 3 shows wear Tuesday. (Photo: Marc Levy)

About a month ago, “there was a rainy day and all the softball and baseball games were canceled. But then the people who work on the fields cleaned up the boys’ fields but not ours, so we could not play and the boys could,” said Sophia Summersgill, in a letter read by father Chris Summersgill that referred to girls’ fields as “basic and broken.”

Several other players and some coaches testified afterward, adding to details about facilities that may have been state of the art three decades ago but always overlooked such things as access to restrooms and accessibility for people with disabilities. Another basic difference between girls’ softball and boys’ baseball facilities, they said: the lack of dugout covers and foul nets, a safety hazard.

The fields are used by girls from elementary up to high school, though councillor Patty Nolan said she was dismayed to hear of problems she encountered as long as 20 years ago. “I’ve played on those fields and [even then] they were in not great shape,” Nolan said. Pointing to the 1972 passage of the Title IX law guaranteeing equal funding, she said it was “pretty ironic that this is the 50th anniversary of that and the City of Cambridge is letting down our girls.”

Solutions sought

The real issue, said Steve McAuliffe, a coach in the Cambridge Girls Softball League, is not about field improvements at Danehy. “We’ve tried that over the years, but it’s just a Band-Aid approach. The real issue is leveling the playing field to ensure the girls feel just as validated by the city as the boys,” McAuliffe said.

The city could dedicate one playing area at Glacken Field to the girls, or build two new fields at Danehy’s less-windy lower soccer field by New Street, solving drop-off and accessibility problems, McAuliffe said. “Don’t let the next generation of girls feel discriminated against as my daughter felt – and still feels, by the way,” he said.

Former councillor, mayor and state representative Anthony Galluccio, an advocate for youth sports who runs a charity supporting Cambridge athletes, said there needed to be more fields and capacity citywide and at least “a major study of what a reinvestment in Danehy would look like.”

“We need to celebrate all athletics, but especially female athletics and girls softball,” Galluccio said.

In passing the order seeking a report, councillor Quinton Zondervan had a broader question for the city to consider – and a possible solution for gender inequities: Stop separating the sports by sex. “I don’t understand why the sports are even gendered – why girls are playing softball and boys are playing baseball, when both sports can be played by all genders,” Zondervan said. “I would hope that in addition to looking at the physical infrastructure, we would also look at our social infrastructure.”