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Wayland board opts to build baseball field after all

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Well, that didn't take long.

Faced with the threat of a Title IX violation, Wayland Union Schools board of education trustees voted unanimously Monday night to build a second baseball field on the shared campus of the high school and middle school.

The decision comes exactly one week after the board decided to keep the basball field off the summer-projects list, despite pressure from parents.

Last week, Shelly Whitley, a parent and former board member, filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights, claiming Wayland did not comply with Title IX.

Under Title IX, athletic opportunities at publicly funded high schools must be similiar for boys and girls. Typically, complaints are that girls teams aren't getting equal opportunities. In Wayland, ironically, softball teams have better facilities than baseball.

With the addition of a second baseball field, the high school and middle school will have two baseball fields, while softball will have four.

"But I think that's fair," said Whitley, who has a son who's a sophomore playing baseball and a daughter who's a middle-schooler playing softball.

Wayland, located in West Michigan between Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo, called a special board of eduction work meeting for Monday, and votes rarely are taken at work meetings. But after public comment, including from Whitley and varsity baseball coach Michael Doupe, the board went into closed session, where it's believed members were provided counsel by the district's lawyer.

When the six members returned — one was absent — they quickly voted to move forward with the baseball field, with all "yes" votes. Whitley said last week that Taylor told her he would recommend the project to the board, but that he feared there were at least two "no" votes.

There is no immediate timetable for completion of the baseball field, a project that is expected to cost between $200,000 and $300,000 when factoring in everything that's needed, including excavation and irrigation. It's about the same amount of money the district pays annually to give every kid, seventh to 12th grade, an iPad.

Currently, there are two softball fields and a baseball field at the high school, and three softball fields and no baseball fields at the middle school. One of the middle-school softball fields will be removed to make room for the baseball field. Land is limited, so that's the only feasible option.

Having just one baseball field was a logistical nightmare at Wayland, which, like the softball program, has three high-school teams, two middle-school teams and youth leagues that vie for time slots.

Wayland has a second baseball field a mile from the high school, across from Baker Elementary, but it's in rough shape and doesn't even have outfield fences.

Wayland superintendent Norman Taylor did not return a message seeking comment Monday night.

Whitley, meanwhile, said she plans to drop the Title IX complaint.

You can read the previous report on the Wayland saga here.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/tonypaul1984