Opinion Schools Sports

Op-Ed: Level the Playing Fields

Hall High School softball field. Photo credit: Jane Grove

Jane Grove, a rising senior at West Hartford’s Hall High School and a member of the softball team, believes the softball fields need to have, at the very least, the same amenities as the high school baseball fields.

A bench behind a fence is the dugout for softball at Hall High School. Photo credit: Jane Grove

By Jane Grove

Softball has always been one of the most important activities in my life. I have played since I was in Kindergarten, making countless lifelong memories along the way.

Big wins, home runs, and close friendships are among my happiest moments, but what I tend to overlook are the settings in which all of these memories took place: fields without fences, scoreboards, or proper dugouts. At the time, I noticed the discrepancies between the fields my teams played on and the fields my friends who played baseball with played on, but never really thought much of them. I continued to enjoy softball despite the less than ideal facilities.

Softball equipment storage box at Conard High School. Photo credit: Jane Grove

My attitudes about West Hartford’s softball facilities began to change as I entered high school. As a member of the Hall High School softball team, I was treated to similar, if not worse facilities than I encountered playing in the town league. The Conard softball team’s facilities are no different, matching Hall’s dugouts consisting of a single barrier and lack of a scoreboard or permanent outfield fence.

Similar to when I was younger, I compared the softball team’s facilities to the baseball team’s: everything softball didn’t have, baseball did.

What I didn’t realize at the time is that softball and baseball are the only high school sports in West Hartford that don’t share the same facilities. Both boys and girls soccer share the same turf, both basketball teams share the same court, and even the golf teams practice at the same course. 

Baseball scoreboard at Hall High School. Photo credit: Jane Grove

Why do the only teams that don’t share the same playing field have such contrasting facilities? And why do the softball teams get the worse facilities of the two?

Both of these questions somehow never made much impact on me as I continued my high school career on a field I knew my team deserved better than. I believe my complicity at the time was due to how commonplace experiences like mine are among female athletes. I can’t remember a time when a facility I or any of my friends were playing on was in better condition than the boys’ facilities. This is the norm, so why would a similar high school experience suddenly open my eyes? 

Used to the sub-par West Hartford softball fields, my teammates and I traveled to other towns expecting the same thing: softball fields equipped with the bare minimum, and baseball fields with many more amenities. To our surprise, we were very wrong. At all of our away games we were in awe of schools that had full dugouts and an outfield fence (we were especially excited when fields had working scoreboard). The vast majority of schools we played at had facilities that were on par with, if not better than their baseball facilities. 

Hal High School baseball field. Photo credit: Jane Grove

Now, equipped with these new and old experiences I ask: why can’t West Hartford put the same effort into their softball fields as other towns? How can a town that so proudly celebrates the 50th anniversary of Title IX stand by as a female sport is treated so differently than its male counterpart?

As I enter my senior season I know the improvements I’m advocating for won’t directly benefit me, and I’m okay with that. My time playing softball in West Hartford has made me the person I am today, but that shouldn’t keep me from helping improve the experiences of the next generation.

Through West Hartford’s softball facilities, I’ve been taught that my sport isn’t as important or worth raising money for as baseball. Future softball players should be proud of the sport they play, and high school fields with fences, scoreboards and proper dugouts would make all the difference in achieving that goal.

[Editor’s Note: West Hartford’s Town Plan and Zoning Commission (TPZ) will hold a public hearing on Aug. 8, 2022, beginning at 7:15 p.m. in Room 314 of Town Hall, to consider approval of a Special Use Permit for the installation of a new scoreboard on the varsity softball field at Hall High School.]

Baseball dugout at Conard High School in West Hartford. Photo credit: Jane Grove

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  • Nice job Jane! I think your experience speaks for a whole generation of softball players who have seen first hand the improvements for baseball, but not for their sport.

  • I think there needs to be a lot more attention to baseball and softball in West Hartford in general. A little known fact that most of what happens to the baseball fields in West Hartford is not a result of the town, but private donations made through various families and non-profits formed to support both Conard and Hall baseball. The dugouts at Conard were donated by a family who’s children played baseball at Conard. I would be happy to discuss with Jane or anyone else on the topic of how these non-profits have impacted the baseball programs and how they may be able to create or establish non-profits to benefit softball in West Hartford. Eric Mallinson, President Emeritus Friends of Chieftain Baseball -501(3)(c)

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