A mess 'with a hefty price tag'

After $1.5 million, Henry Clay softball field still plagued by water

Boosters say the problem isn't fair to players

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comSeptember 5, 2011 

Nearly $1.5 million has been spent building and repairing the girls softball field at Lexington's Henry Clay High School over the last decade, but parents say it remains unusable much of the time.

"Rain water just does not drain from our field," said Steve Worrell, president of the booster club. "Last spring, our girls only got to play four or five home games because the field is almost always unplayable. It was our turn to host the district tournament, but we had to move the games to Bryan Station because Henry Clay was unfit."

With so many missed home games, the team has suffered because the booster club "missed out on most of our fund-raising money through ticket sales and concession sales," Worrell said.

Fayette County Schools spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall said the district hopes to have the drainage problem resolved by the end of the month, but parents remain concerned about whether their children will be able to play on the field next spring.

"The booster club has invested many of its own fund-raising dollars to install a sprinkler system, a new windscreen and various other projects, to provide the girls with a facility that is somewhat comparable to the baseball field that sits directly behind it," Sherry Hamilton, secretary of the softball booster club, wrote in a July letter to school officials.

"Instead, it is an embarrassment to present this newly 'renovated' softball field, that came with a hefty price tag, to the community,'' Hamilton said.

Henry Clay's softball-field saga began a decade ago, when the Kentucky High School Athletic Association sanctioned the school, contending that boys and girls ball teams were not on equal footing as required by the federal law called Title IX.

At the time, the Henry Clay girls softball team had no field of its own and was playing its games at a city park. In response, Fayette County schools built a new softball field at a cost of about $589,000.

The softball field has had problems caused by subsiding or settling soil since shortly after it was completed in 2002.

In 2005, the school district filed a lawsuit in Fayette Circuit Court against the contractors that built the field. Even though that lawsuit is pending, the district spent about $898,000 in 2009 to reconstruct the field "so that it was done the way it should have been done to begin with," Deffendall said.

That work, which included a retaining wall, the addition of a press box and concession stand, a dugout, fencing, utility work and "extensive earth work," was completed by June 2009, Deffendall said.

Still, water pools on the field.

"The right field still has a spongy spot that has been filled in twice this season, indicating that water is coming from under the ground," Hamilton wrote in her letter to school officials. "Left field also had standing water, with mold growing on top of the grass, suggesting that the water has been there for an extended period of time, posing a health risk to the players and coaches who have to play in it."

She said the stench from wet grass and mold on the field "is revolting."

The school district's maintenance staff is working on the water problem now and will reseed and fertilize the field, Deffendall said. An electrical problem in the concession stand also is being repaired.

"We understand the frustration that the parents are feeling because we are feeling it too," she said. "We have been working since 2001 to ensure that the softball team at Henry Clay has a high-quality facility, and we will continue to work until we resolve all of the issues."

Paul Hamilton, Sherry Hamilton's husband and the former president of the booster club, said he thinks the current condition of the field is a gender-equity issue. But KHSAA spokesman Elden May said no complaints or requests for investigations have been filed with the association regarding Henry Clay's compliance with the Title IX program.

Worrell, the current booster club president, said he doesn't know whether it's a Title IX issue, but it needs to be fixed.

"We do not ask for anything better than the other schools have; just equal. As it stands now, we will have senior girls on the team next spring that have never enjoyed having any kind of home field advantage during their high school careers," Worrell said. "That's just not fair."

Reach Valarie Honeycutt Spears at (859) 231-3409 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3409.

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