It is long past time to level the playing field for young female athletes in South Surrey and White Rock.
That’s how at least one Semiahmoo Peninsula parent of an 11-year-old softball player feels, especially when their team travels to other cities where the playing fields aren’t too small, or on a slope, or covered with weeds and punctuated with holes.
In light of a recent B.C. Human Rights Tribunal hearing that ruled against the City of Victoria, which tried to quash a complaint filed by a local girls’ softball association over the condition of sports fields, Ryan Sharp feels it’s an excellent time to revisit the state of the softball fields at Sunnyside Park in South Surrey.
He said people look at him “like I’m crazy” when he talks about the fields getting the upgrades they need.
“They’re all, ‘No one cares. It’ll never get done. It’s just the girls – who cares?’” Sharp said.
With the park – home to the South Surrey White Rock Minor Softball Association – being built on a slope, he said his parents – and others, including himself – have tripped and nearly hurt themselves more than once.
“Safety is my Number One concern. We need a level field and we need it to be safe,” Sharp said.
“One-hundred per cent they are unsafe. I know I’ve fallen down many times.
“The kids are pretty resilient, but for parents and grandparents, it’s brutal. Everyone has seen it.”
“Right now, No. 5 (diamond) is probably our best one… (diamonds No.) 1 through 4 are not irrigated, and ball diamond No. 6 is an absolute joke – even in U11 last year, we had people hitting home runs and hitting cars in a parking lot,” he said.
“They are not registered softball diamonds. It’s not even regulation for U15, I don’t think.”
The lack of regulation fields means the SSWRMSA can never host a tournament, he noted.
Sharp said he and the players and parents are grateful to have the field time they are granted, but doesn’t understand why the softball fields are still at such sub-par levels, especially when compared to other softball and baseball fields in the city, as well as softball fields in neighbouring cities.
“(The City of Surrey) had this big giant document in 2007 about a plan of action… it just fizzled,” he said, referring to the City’s 2007 Sunnyside Park Master Plan.
The plan, which can be found online, “is a long-term vision for the park that will upgrade neighbourhood amenities and create additional capacity for the thriving sport of minor softball,” according to a 2007 corporate City report.
Thomas Bell, president of the SSWRMSA, said that unfortunately, the City of Surrey did not allocate any further capital to complete the phases after diamonds No. 5 and No. 6 were built.
“Sixteen years have gone by and time has not been kind to the Sunnyside Park softball fields. The infields and outfields are significantly sloped. A well-placed ground ball often becomes a home run instead of a single. The park, in its current state, does not meet the requirements of competitive softball,” he said, adding the grass fields are uneven and “full of holes from dogs and from lack of maintenance over the years.”
The current configuration of fields also overlap each other, Bell said, so all the fields cannot be used at the same time.
“The 2007 plan would see the fields reversed in a traditional clover leaf configuration, so that they face away from each other. This layout will allow each diamond to have its own outfield and vastly improve the safety for players,” he noted.
He and other stakeholders have been in talks with representatives from the City, Bell said, and “after 16 years of waiting, I am very optimistic that the City will finally move forward with these much-needed improvements.”
With the improvements, the softball association would be able to host tournaments such as districts, provincials and even nationals, said Bell.
“These generate revenue, which we would earmark to build batting cages and pitching lanes, with a longer-term goal of building an indoor training facility. Currently, there are no indoor softball training facilities in South Surrey,” he said, adding that it costs upward of $90 per hour for any team to rent facilities from other sports, at undesirable time slots.
“Our softball players have gone on to excel at colleges and universities as well as on the international stage. I can only imagine what South Surrey could produce in terms of high-level female athletes if we had adequate facilities in which to train and play,” Bell said.
Hugh Norris, City of Surrey parks facility operations manager, couldn’t answer why the 2007 master plan has stalled for so long.
“That’s a great question. In my mind, it is still on… there were some complications with it for awhile,” Norris said.
“It’s back on – we’re now going to take another look at what we can do to fit in some improved ball diamonds at the park.”
The first step is to establish and assess exactly what work needs to be done, and to “get a proper, detailed estimate done that we can then put forward for consideration in the capital planning process,” he said.
The renovation required is unique, Norris noted.
“With the kind of cut and fill that’s necessary for a park that, for whatever reason, wasn’t built flat in the beginning – I do not know why, it’s the only park I’ve ever seen like that – for whatever reason, there must’ve been some mitigating circumstances necessitating it to be built the way it was,” he said.
Heidi Nyline, who is the facilities co-ordinator for SSWRMSA as well as the White Rock Renegades Girls Fastpitch Association, co-ordinates all softball fields in South Surrey for both associations representing all Fastpitch softball players in South Surrey. She is also optimistic that the park will be upgraded sooner, rather than later.
Last season – fall ball and spring ball combined – she handled more than 900 requests for bookings for fields in South Surrey for softball, between the Renegades, SSWRMSA and private training, she said.
“We simply don’t have the fields to support the growing demand… Thunder (Fastpitch) has added two additional rep teams to their association for the 2024 season and the added volume is going to mean even less field access for our girls in South Surrey,” Nyline noted in an emailed statement.
“We are in desperate need of our current diamonds to be brought up to a competitive play level but also, a plan to add more diamonds to our South Surrey area. We need an immediate solution for our current shortfall but also a plan to support the development of softball for the long term.”
She and Bell noted that Softball City hosts a world-class, 10-day international tournament each summer that brings a significant economic benefit to South Surrey.
“It’s frustrating that we don’t invest back into a sport that is predominantly female-driven when the benefits and opportunities for our athletes are so big,” she said.
“My biggest worry is that not only will there not be enough diamonds for our current players to train and play on, but as interest in softball continues to grow amongst female athletes, we will have to cap our registration and send players to associations in other communities.”
Norris emphasized the park upgrades are a priority.
“We are working on it actively. It’s got to get into the capital planning process. We will be putting forward a project scope for the renovation of the ball diamonds at Sunnyside,” he said, but couldn’t give an estimated cost, as it was still being determined.
Sharp said he’ll believe the upgrades will happen when it’s an item in the city’s next budget.
“In my opinion, until it’s in the 2024 budget – until it’s done, I’m not happy,” Sharp said.
“I want to see massively accelerated plans… I welcome the news as a parent, and I’m looking forward (to executive working) with the City on rapid deployment on what needs to be done.”
Sharp said he has been paying close attention to the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal ruling in Victoria, and while he doesn’t think anyone wins in a war, “if it comes to it, I have no problem doing it,” when it comes to filing a complaint with the tribunal.
“Hopefully it won’t come to that… but now there’s a blueprint for the process.”
– with files from Chris Campbell