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Softball teammates level playing fields at California high school

Danielle Ellis (left) and Sydney Prenatt (right) pose in their Rancho Buena Vista softball visors. (Courtesy of Sydney Prenatt)
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By Ashkan Motamedi

In Vista, California, heroes wear softball uniforms. Their names: Danielle Ellis and Sydney Prenatt.

Ellis and Prenatt resist such praise. But at Rancho Buena Vista High School, where the pair were teammates on the Longhorns softball team for four years before graduating in 2018, that’s exactly how they’re remembered.

“They should absolutely be considered heroes. What they did was selfless and it’s going to help so many girls in the future,” said Ava Bradford, a former Rancho Buena Vista softball player.

Ellis’ and Prenatt’s story is rare. A four-month investigation of Title IX and high school sports by The Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism and Howard Center for Investigative Journalism found many high school girls lack the information to recognize Title IX violations and to demand change from school officials.

Not Ellis and Prenatt.

On May 8, 2018, as teammates looked on, Ellis and Prenatt read a letter from the Vista Unified School District board. They learned that the board had approved a new softball field to be built on campus. They’d won their fight for equal treatment.

“It was a really powerful moment,” Prenatt said. “I almost started crying, just because it was really surreal.”

As seniors, the friends and teammates were students in a government class taught by Timothy Leary, a beloved figure at the school for 26 years. In the first unit of Leary’s class, Ellis and Prenatt learned about the five concepts of democracy, specifically civil rights and the full extent of Title IX as it pertains to equal opportunity in sport. As they discussed the law and its purpose, a lightbulb went on about their softball field.

“Sydney and I sat down and analyzed Title IX as a law. We’re like, ‘OK, this is a big deal. This is a very major issue,’” Ellis said. “We always noticed the differences and stuff, but we didn’t realize that there was a law specifically that addressed that.”

There were many differences between the baseball field for boys and the softball field for girls. All favored the boys. The softball field was off campus at Buena Vista Park, where the girls played on the Buena Vista Ballfields about one-third mile from the school. The softball players also had to provide their own transportation, or walk.

Other facilities were lacking. The field conditions were below average. The softball team’s storage facilities did not match those for the baseball team. As a result, the players had to walk to their classes with their softball gear. The bathrooms at the park were also sometimes locked and there were instances when the athletes said they felt their privacy was being violated by passersby.

“It just made us feel underappreciated and undervalued [by] the school,” Ellis said.

The baseball diamond was far superior. It was on campus, had better field conditions, had a clubhouse to store gear, had access to the school bathrooms and had batting cages. The baseball team determined when it got to use the field.

Prenatt explained that playing softball on a field in a public park owned by the city made it difficult to schedule games and practice, knowing other teams needed to use the field as well.

“From our perspective, it was so blatantly obvious, the unequalness,” Prenatt said.

After consulting with their government teacher, Ellis and Prenatt focused their yearlong class project on their softball field and Title IX. They approached the school principal in the fall to ask for help. He was not supportive, they said.

“That’s when we knew that we had to go to the school board,” Ellis said.

Ellis and Prenatt contacted members of the Vista Unified School District board, leading to a tense conversation with the principal, Ellis said. (Attempts to contact the principal, who has since left the school, were unsuccessful).

The girls faced other roadblocks. But Ellis and Prenatt were not going to let each other stop short of their goal.

“[Danielle] and I were both firing each other up and saying, ’No, why would we stop because it’s so blatantly an obvious violation,’” Prenatt said. “We also knew the softball team deserves better and our coaches deserve better. That’s why we weren’t really super discouraged by not hearing [what we want].”

They decided to go to a school board meeting on April 12, 2018, after their softball game against Ramona High School. They were dressed in their uniforms when they gave a speech about their proposal for a new field.

“We are asking you to all stand with us so that future girls don’t have to grow up thinking equality has to be earned,” Prenatt said during their speech to the school board. “They grow up believing that equality is expected.”

On Leary’s advice, they then made an emphatic gesture to get the attention of the school board.

“Basically, [Leary] told us ‘if you really want to make a statement, right after you give your speech you just walk out,’” Ellis said. “That’s what we did, we walked out, and then our teammates, our parents, everybody stood up and just walked out with us.”

About four weeks after the school board meeting, Ellis and Prenatt got the letter with the big news that the district was going to build a new softball field for Rancho Buena Vista High School.

“We read the letter to our entire team and we all started jumping around and screaming,” Prenatt said. “It was a really great moment, and it really made us feel seen and it made me really happy for the future softball players. … It was a really powerful moment. I’ll never forget it.”

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The ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new field at Rancho Buena Vista High School was held in February 2021. (Courtesy of Matt Doyle)

“The goal was definitely just to get the girls coming after us a softball field on campus, something that was comparable to the baseball field,” Ellis said. “The biggest goal was just to do better by the next generation, to give them something more than we ever had.”

Bradford, who was a freshman at the time of the school board meeting, was one of the softball players who got to play on the new field as a senior when it opened.

“We have so much gratitude for what Sydney and [Danielle] did,” Bradford said. “Just to be able to have the opportunity to play on that field. I’m just really grateful to have had my senior season there.”

Ellis’ and Prenatt’s Title IX story lives on in Leary’s government class when he teaches Title IX to his students.

“I use [Danielle] and Sydney in my class in my explanation every single year now,” Leary said. “What is so inspiring was that they were determined and this demonstrates what you can succeed and what you can achieve … when you don’t take no for an answer.”

The Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism and the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism collaborated on a four-month investigation into Title IX and high school sports. Support their work at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism.

Midge Purce-Backed Docuseries ‘The Offseason’ to Drop This Summer

cast of the offseason nwsl reality series
'The Offseason' follows a group of NWSL stars as they prepare for preseason play. (The Offseason)

The Offseason, a reality series created by Gotham and USWNT star Midge Purce, has officially confirmed its streaming debut, Purce announced in Cannes on Tuesday.

The six-episode, half-hour docuseries will stream this summer on X, though a specific premiere date hasn't yet been set.

The Offseason was filmed in Miami, two weeks before the NWSL preseason. It's a crucial time for athletes, a period where they prepare to join their respective teams and compete for both starting and roster spots. Production designed all the facilities, bringing in top-tier trainers, masseuses, chefs, and gym equipment to create a high-level training environment, ensuring the players were in peak condition, per the show's release. Throughout filming, athletes lived together in one house — a reality TV conceit rife for entertainment.

The series follows a number of NWSL stars, including Purce (NJ/NY Gotham FC), Maria Sanchez (Houston Dash), Lo’eau LaBonta (Kansas City Current), Michelle Alozie (Houston Dash), Taylor Smith (NJ/NY Gotham FC), Nikki Stanton (OL Reign), Ally Watt (Orlando Pride), Taryn Torres (NJ/NY Gotham FC), Paige Nielsen (Angel City FC), and Ify Onumonu (Utah Royals).

"We wanted to create a series that truly captures the essence of what it means to be a professional athlete," said Purce. "This series has always been about more than just sports — it's about the human experience behind the athlete, as well."

The show promises a behind-the-scenes look at professional women's sports, teasing major life decisions, on-field tensions, and players taking stock of the environments they'll be entering once their preseason trip is over. The series delves into the real-life challenges faced by the athletes, including club trades, contract negotiations, burnout, and the relentless pressure from outsiders commenting on the players' personal lives.

The Offseason's official trailer, released on Tuesday, shows snippets of Hubly contemplating retirement, Sanchez joining the group after signing a high-profile contract, and a healthy amount of banter about on-field achievements.

The spirit of the series is reflected in its producers: Box To Box Films is known for their sports content (Drive to Survive, Break Point, Full Swing), whereas 32 Flavors is the creative force behind Vanderpump Rules and The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. The series was funded by Seven Seven Six, and executive produced by Purce.

Lilia Vu adds Meijer LPGA Classic to tour wins record

Lilia Vu won in her first tournament in two months. (Photo by Jorge Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Lilia Vu won her fifth LPGA Tour event on Sunday, taking home the Meijer LPGA Classic title in her first tournament since March. 

The world No. 2 had been sidelined with a back injury, but returned with a vengeance. She began the day eight shots back of leader Grace Kim, and survived a three-hole playoff against Kim and former champion Lexi Thompson to take the title. 

“I think this is the most meaningful win,” said Vu, “because there was a time two months ago where I was just crying on the range not being sure if I would ever play a tournament again without pain.”

A two-time major champion, Vu hadn’t before won the Meijer LPGA Classic, but a birdie on the third playoff hole helped secure it. She’s now 2-for-3 in LPGA Tour playoffs. 

She said on Sunday that being unable to defend her title at the Chevron Championship was the “breaking point” in her season.

“Not being able to compete there really killed me,” she said. “I feel like I thought I was taking the steps in the right direction, but I’m glad that I was able to take a couple months off and reevaluate my body, let it recover, do what I needed to do to get back out here again.

“And we did the right thing and took two months off. I think it hurt me not to play competitive golf because I literally live for competitive golf, but we did the right thing and that’s why I’m here today.”

Top tennis players pull out of Olympics citing health reasons

Aryna Sabalenka will not play in the Olympics. (Photo by ALAIN JOCARD/AFP via Getty Images)

Ons Jabeur and Aryna Sabalenka joined a growing list of tennis stars opting out of the Olympics on Monday.

Sabalenka, the reigning Australian Open champion and world No. 3, told reporters in Berlin that she was looking after her health while citing WTA tournament participation requirements. The Belarusian had struggled with a stomach bug during the French Open, where she lost in the semifinals of a major for the first time since 2022. 

“Especially with all the struggles I was having last month, I feel like I need to take care of my health. … It’s too much with the scheduling,” Sabalenka said. “It’s just too much. I made the decision to take care of my health.”

Similarly, Jabeur cited the health risks that come with the change of surface. The world No. 10 has been battling knee injuries this season, and lost in the French Open quarterfinals to Coco Gauff. 

Players will spend the next few weeks playing on grass in the lead-up to Wimbledon, while the Olympics will be played at Roland-Garros and be held on clay. 

“After consulting with my medical team regarding attending the Olympics in Paris, we have decided that the quick change of surface and the body’s adaptation required would put my knee at risk and jeopardize the rest of my season,” Jabeur posted on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Unfortunately, I will not be able to participate in the 2024 Paris Olympics. I have always loved representing my country in any competition, However, I must listen to my body and follow my medical team’s advice.”

The two join Emma Raducanu in opting out of the Olympics. Raducanu – who has dealt with a number of injuries since her US Open win in 2021 – cited the changing surface as “not worth the risk.”

Jaedyn Shaw Breaks NWSL Record for Most Goals Scored as a Teenager

Jaedyn Shaw of the san diego wave
Jaedyn Shaw is now holds the record for most NWSL goals as a teenager. (Julia Kapros-USA TODAY Sports)

Jaedyn Shaw continues to make NWSL history, surpassing Trinity Rodman for the most NWSL goals by a teenager on Saturday. 

She did it in a game against Rodman's Washington Spirit in the 20th minute of the 1-1 draw. It brings her total to 13 league goals, after making her NWSL debut at 17 years old in July 2022. 

The goal is her third this season. Shaw currently leads Wave alongside Makenzy Doniak. 

Shaw has also been a member of the USWNT, alongside Rodman, netting seven goals over 14 national team appearances. If she gets called up to this summer’s Olympics under Emma Hayes, it will mark her first official tournament with the USWNT.

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