Encinal Softball Players Seek Field Improvements

City of Alameda -- Lower Washington Park
City of Alameda -- Lower Washington Park

Encinal Softball Players Seek Field Improvements

Encinal High School softball players are not happy with their homefield and are seeking ways to improve it or a new place to call home. Unlike its baseball team that plays on campus, the softball team plays home games at Lower Washington Park, an Alameda Parks and Recreation Department (ARPD) field that has triggered safety concerns and other challenges for the Jets.

For 20 years, the Jets have had to apply for field positioning with ARPD before each season at the allocation meeting during which each school requests the city field(s) they want to use. According to ARPD’s Athletic Facility Use and Allocation Policy, all Alameda schools with teams of at least 75 percent Alameda residents get second priority for field usage after classes, leagues, and activities run by the City of Alameda.

The Alameda High School doesn’t have this problem as its softball team plays on campus, but its baseball team plays home games at Lincoln Park on High Street. St. Joseph Notre Dame’s softball team plays at Leydecker Park on Bay Farm, while its baseball team uses the College of Alameda’s baseball field.

In addition to scheduling challenges, softball and baseball teams can’t use the same fields because softball fields are smaller than baseball fields in both the distance between bases and from the pitching mound to home plate. ARPD Recreation Supervisor 1 Stacy Thomas, who coordinates ARPD field rentals, said that she has never encountered any controversy over where teams play. She revealed that all field user groups pay a fee with schools paying eight dollars per hour per field. The price, which has risen one dollar each year for the past few years, is set by the city’s Parks and Rec Commission. Encinal has had to continually use Lower Washington Park because the school does not have the funds to build a softball field on or closer to campus. Despite this, Encinal’s athletic director Kevin Gorham explained that the school tries to be as equitable and accommodating as possible.

“We make sure the women's team is taken care of, but there is only so much I can do with constraints to facilities and lack of funding,” said Gorham. “I have always responded in a positive way if our softball coach needs something.”

This year the condition of the field caused a multitude of unexpected challenges for the softball team. Lola Whalen, a captain on EHS softball team, highlighted the main areas of concern in a letter to Alameda School Board President Heather Little. Whalen, a junior, mentioned that her team’s coaches can’t control whether or not they can practice. ARPD closed the field following the recent storms, forcing the Jets to practice on the black top or the school hallway.

Whalen also expressed that she and her team feel unsafe while playing at Lower Washington.

“Since it’s public, there are many unhoused people walking around and one particular lady harasses my team as we practice," Whalen said. “She will mostly stand at the fence shouting inappropriate things towards the team and call all of our non-white players derogatory terms. She has even gotten comfortable enough to come into our dugout while our bags are in there and look around.”

To improve the field and mitigate some of the safety concerns, some EHS parents suggested installing a home-run fence. However, Thomas said that can’t happen because the field is a multi-use facility. Shannon Donohoe, Whalen’s mother, responded by asking about purchasing a temporary fence that could be moved on and off the field to minimize the players’ safety concerns and the likelihood of a ball hitting people walking near the field during a game. However, ARPD’s maintenance department denied the request citing safety issues. Thomas also noted that no softball field in Alameda has a home-run fence.

Despite the frustrations of the players and parents, for the time being, Encinal will continue playing at Lower Washington Park. Their next home game is Friday, April 28 against Mt. Eden of Hayward.