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South Ogden parent discouraged after daughter barred from playing in youth baseball game; officials cite new law

By Ryan Aston - | Jun 15, 2024

Ryan Aston, Standard-Examiner

South Ogden's Cloud Heights Park is photographed Thursday, June 13, 2024.

SOUTH OGDEN -- A 10-year-old girl was disqualified as a participant in a city minors baseball game last month when a South Ogden official indicated to parents that she should not be playing in a boy's league.

Sydney Zitting told the Standard-Examiner that her daughter, Addison, has been playing in a multicity third/fourth grade minors baseball league for the last two years, alongside friends she has known and played with since kindergarten. However, as the child was warming up with her teammates prior to a late-season game May 29 at Club Heights Park, a city employee reportedly intervened.

"He told us, like, verbatim, he said, 'Girls play softball. They do not play baseball with boys,'" Zitting recounted, along with other parents who witnessed the incident.

With Addison having been deemed ineligible, the game was ultimately forfeited. The two teams decided to play anyway but, as another parent -- Adam Soderborg -- characterized the situation in an email to the Standard-Examiner, "About 20 minutes into the game the official and his crew ... came down from the officials box and slunk away."

Zitting had signed her daughter up through Washington Terrace, where she also participates in other sports. However, the city partners with a number of other municipalities -- South Ogden, Riverdale and South Weber among them -- to bolster youth sports participation. Now, Zitting and other parents believe that South Ogden is actually discouraging participation by engaging in what they view as "discriminatory" practices.

For his part, South Ogden City Manager Matt Dixon regrets how the situation unfolded, expressing sympathy for the parents and children -- as well as the city employees -- who were involved.

"We feel bad because we want every young boy and young girl to enjoy being a part of our (recreation) programs, to participate, to learn the sports. So it's a very unfortunate thing that we're hoping not to ever have occur again within our programs," Dixon said. "And we're going to learn from it."

In the end, though, Dixon told the Standard-Examiner that officials were guided by state law in determining Addison's eligibility, pointing to House Bill 257, which was signed into law in January. The bill, which the ACLU of Utah said "perpetuates discrimination" -- particularly against LGBTQ+ people -- does contain the following language:

"To preserve the individual privacy and competitive opportunity of males, an individual is not entitled to and may not access, use, or benefit from a government entity's athletic facility, program, or event if: (i) the facility, program, or event is designated for males; and (ii) the individual is not male."

In this specific instance, the league rules don't explicitly state that girls cannot participate. However, it is noted that the league is intended for "Boys who are in 3rd or 4th Grade."

Clifford Rosky, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Utah's S.J. Quinney College of Law -- told the Standard-Examiner that Dixon and South Ogden City are correctly applying the new law in this instance. However, he also believes that some of the legislation's verbiage actually violates Title IX.

"Federal courts have long upheld the rights of girls and women to participate in male sports competitions, especially when an equivalent female sports competition is not available, like in football or baseball," Rosky said.

Despite their similarities, there are marked differences between softball and baseball, most notably the size of the ball that is used and pitchers' delivery method (throwing underhand rather than overhand). Additionally, male and co-ed softball leagues are commonplace around the U.S.

Issues with Title IX, or even the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, notwithstanding, Zitting just wants her daughter to have continued access to the game she loves. Addison was able to play in subsequent games but, next season, she may not be allowed to sign up at all.

"It's not anything like a political standpoint I'm coming from," Zitting said. "It's just, she's been playing in the league since she was 5. It's not even competitive. Half of the kids are hitting the Griddy and eating grass. None of them are paying attention. They're just there to have fun. And for them to single her out because she's a girl in the middle of all of these parents, in front of all of her friends that are kids that now are going to be like, 'Oh, well, you can't play because you're a girl.' ... I wish it wasn't like that when she's only 10 years old."

Meanwhile, Dixon indicated that the relevant city recreation departments would be meeting to discuss the incident. He also left the door open for reconsideration of the current sports guidelines.

"We could debate the policy. I think that's a fair debate to say, 'Should a youth recreation baseball program be gender specific?' ... I think that's a very fair debate," he said.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that it is unknown which South Ogden city employee prevented Addison Worsham from competing with her male teammates.

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