Parents of Fayetteville softball players file Title IX lawsuit

They claim girls sports underfunded

FAYETTEVILLE -- Parents of three Fayetteville High School softball players claim the School District favors boys teams.

A Title IX lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court claims the boys athletic teams receive better funding, equipment, scheduling, locker rooms, training facilities, publicity and more experienced and higher paid coaches. Title IX is the federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in any education program activity that receives federal money.

At a glance

Eight points of contention in the Title IX lawsuit against Fayetteville Public Schools:

• Funding of athletics

• Provision of equipment and supplies

• Scheduling of games and practice times

• Assignment and compensation of coaches

• Opportunities to receive coaching

• Provision of locker rooms and facilities

• Provision of training facilities

• Publicity

Source: Staff report

"The imbalance in the treatment of female and male athletes at Fayetteville Public Schools as detailed above, demonstrates Fayetteville Public Schools' intentional and conscious failure to comply with Title IX," according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit lists parents Chris D. Ezell, James and Donna Lyles and Wes R. Mabry as plaintiffs and demands the School District provide equal opportunities and facilities to all athletes.

The parents seek compensation for money they spent on sports equipment and supplies they were required to buy. They claim the district is hurting their daughters' chances to obtain college athletic scholarships.

Ezell directed questions to their attorney, Sam Schiller of Cookeville, Tenn. He specializes in Title IX cases and has clients across the country. The parents just want what is right for their children, Schiller said.

"It's about fundamental fairness," Schiller said. "They talked with the School District and got to the point where they were frustrated and felt out of choices."

The lawsuit outlines eight main complaints, including access to locker rooms, practice and competition facilities. The lawsuit compares the baseball and softball facilities on everything from dugout size to weight rooms.

Paul Hewitt, Fayetteville superintendent, wrote in an email the School District has one of the finest high school softball facilities in the United States.

"Our facilities for both boys and girls are outstanding and reflect our district's commitment to equity," he wrote. "We believe the quality of our athletic programs for both male and female athletes will be fully demonstrated in the pending court action."

The lawsuit claims male athletes were able to attend a "5th period" athletic hour that gave the baseball coach two athletic periods during the school day to work with players while the softball coach only had one period.

David Young, assistant principal for the fine arts and creative expression program, said fourth and fifth periods served as a "sophomore period" for athletics in recent years. The sophomore period is available to any sport if numbers dictate a need and if the coaches in their respective sport were available.

The football, baseball, volleyball and girls and boys basketball teams used the sophomore period last year. Athletes participating in the sophomore period couldn't sign up for the varsity period as well, meaning athletes could only take one athletic period.

The softball team has one paid coach, while the baseball team has three paid coaches and the football program has more than a dozen paid coaches, the lawsuit contends, and the district sets higher standards for coaches on the boys' teams.

Schiller said he has about a half dozen cases in various stages right now, and they typically take a year to 18 months to resolve.

He said his firm gets hundreds of inquiries and is selective on the cases he takes.

"The decision on which case to take is an art and not a science," he said. "There were a number of things that stand out in this case. There are issues of equality of what the girls are provided compared to the boys."

Information for this article was contributed by Vernon Tarver of the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Christie Swanson can be reached at or on Twitter @NWAChristie.

NW News on 07/16/2015

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