Almost three years to the date after filing a lawsuit for Title IX violations against the Coffee County Board of Education, a group of Coffee County parents settled out of court with the school system Feb. 1.
The settlement will make significant changes to the makeup of fall athletics this year at Central High School as it calls for the CHS soccer team to be allowed to use Carden-Jarrell Football Field to play home games, which was the main complaint in the lawsuit filed Feb. 10, 2010 in the U.S. District Court Eastern District of Tennessee at Winchester.
“I’m glad we came to a fair and equitable agreement,” said Craig Pentifallo, one of the parents who filed the lawsuit. “It was good to see that those in charge saw the right side of the law. That law was enacted in 1972 and it’s unfortunate that it took this long for that to come about.”
The lawsuit, filed by former CHS soccer coach Rhonda Winton and her husband Roger along with Craig Pentifallo, Heather Pentifallo, DeLain Anderson and Staci Parker, alleged the school system discriminated against female athletes and that the soccer team was not afforded the same amenities as the CHS football team – including a lighted field, locker rooms, bathrooms and running water. The group also complained that the football program had separate fields for practice and competition and that the lack of lights on the soccer field, located behind Coffee County Middle School, made it impossible to host postseason tournaments or play lengthy junior varsity games.
The settlement, signed Feb. 1, calls for the soccer program to be able to use the football field for games two times per week when the football team is playing on the road the upcoming Friday and one time per week when the football team is at playing at home. The settlement also stipulates that the soccer team’s use of the facility will have to be scheduled around high school and Coffee County Middle School football games.
In a letter to Rhonda Winton the plaintiff’s lawyer, Samuel Schiller, said “Generations of female athletes will benefit from your efforts.”
Winton told the Times that “it was the right thing to do for the girls.”
Winton resigned as the soccer coach after the 2011 season. She remains a teacher at CHS.
The settlement hinges on the fact that the school system plans to have a regulation soccer field with lights constructed at the new middle school on State Route 53 when school starts in 2014. At that time the soccer team would move all of its games there.
In the meantime, school officials are scrambling to ensure all schedules will be on the same page this fall.
“It’s not a matter of changing the soccer schedule,” explained CHS athletic director Richard Skipper, “but it’s a matter of seeing what lines up to see what fits in a certain situation. I think [soccer coach David Amado] told me he has two dates left to fill. That’s where we are at right now.
“We haven’t really gotten really deep into it.”
CHS principal John Bush said the field might be able to take the abuse for one year.
“We can make this work for a year,” said Bush. “As an alumni and former football coach, I can say that you could not have that much traffic on it for years and it last because there is no way for that to be possible. For a year, we can make the necessary arrangements.”
Another question lingering is who will be in charge of field maintenance. For years the football program has maintained the field through its quarterback club and parent volunteers. Last year Joey Baumstein was in charge of field maintenance but he resigned at the conclusion of the season. The Times attempted to reach head football coach Lee Davis to inquire about parent volunteers this year, but voicemails and text messages were not returned before press time.
“The football coaches have oversight of the field maintenance,” said Bush. “Some of the coaches will be doing that. There are some parent volunteers, though.”
Skipper added that there is currently “a lot of parent involvement.”
“Coach Davis is taking it like a champ,” said Skipper. “The lines may look confusing for this year but if it’s just for this year we can just stand on our head for a year if we have to.”
Bush added that with four programs – high school football, freshman football, middle school football and now soccer – using the field that scheduling will be a balancing act.
“Our schools that we have contracts with, they understand and they deal with these issues as well,” said Bush. “Everybody is more than willing to work with us if they can. I’m sure Richard and [middle school athletic director] Kyle [Harris] will work out something that will be equitable.”
The lawsuit also calls for Tennessee Risk Management Trust, the insurer of the school board, to pay attorney fees for the plaintiff’s in the amount of $37,500.
The amount the school board paid its attorney was requested by the Times but not answered at press time.