Downtown teen softballers learn ‘pay to play’ politics

Downtown Express photo by Zach Williams Brian Friedman, athletic director at Millennium of Millennium High School, said the families of the school’s girls softball team have raised enough money through to field a team this season.

Downtown Express photo by Zach Williams
Brian Friedman, athletic director at Millennium of Millennium High School, said the families of the school’s girls softball team have raised enough money through to field a team this season.

BY ZACH WILLIAMS  |  Softball enthusiasts leveraged technology in an unprecedented drive to establish a varsity team at Millennium High School in the Financial District.

They collected more than $10,000 from 88 contributors within a week on The funds will bankroll the team’s admittance into the citywide Public School Athletic League just in time for the upcoming season. Parents and the school’s athletic director were behind the effort which will establish the first official spring girls sport at the high school.

The success of the effort and the level of parental involvement was a pleasant surprise for supporters, especially given the city school system.

“It’s very hard to do this within a high school because these kids are from all over the place,” said Downtown resident Scott Morrison whose daughter Zoe, 15, plays softball and attends Millennium which has another campus in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

Dozens of schools across New York City apply each year to receive accreditation from the P.S.A.L. for new athletic teams. Most are turned away because of budgetary limits, according to Brian Friedman, athletic director at Millennium. The P.S.A.L. pays coaches’ and officials salaries for accepted schools, according to the city Department of Education, which oversees the sports group.

Staff from the office of State Sen. Daniel Squadron assisted in the effort. They contacted a P.S.A.L. official in late November about what would be necessary to get the team into the league — according to a Squadron spokesperson — even if the team had to pay for itself. Schools already must buy their own uniforms and equipment, according to the D.O.E.

Permission to join the P.S.A.L. by gaining funding through donations was unprecedented until Millennium’s application, according to the D.O.E. But supporters of the team still must collect a total of $36,600 to fund their team for three seasons total per the team’s commitment to P.S.A.L., Friedman said. Fundraising efforts are continuing in order to take advantage of the current enthusiasm for the team both online and off, he added in an interview.

“We gotta make sure that we are able to get the vast bulk of [the funding] in this first year because otherwise I feel like the momentum will slow down,” he said. “People will start to worry about other things and we might be in a bad position.”

More than $2,500 in additional funding will come through a partnership with the Brooklyn Nets, according to Friedman. Under the deal, the softball team will receive 30 percent of the take for 225 tickets to a March 6 game versus the Phoenix Suns, more than $2,500.

The idea for that event predated the online crowd-sourced fundraising and was originally intended to support special projects within the school’s athletic department, he added.

“I think that if anything qualifies as a special project it would be trying to add a team that didn’t exist before,” he said.

Forming a softball team at Millennium required more than funding to happen, according to Diane Hoernecke whose daughter Samantha, 16, is a junior there. The first step was finding a place where an aspiring team could play, Hoernecke said in a telephone interview. Such a task is not easy in Lower Manhattan where little leagues and corporate intramurals alike compete for space. But a contact through Peter Stuyvesant Little League secured practice time at a field in the Lower East Side for a club team at Millennium that would not require P.S.A.L. recognition. The participation of a teacher helped garner the school’s permission to proceed, she said and the girls played club softball last year.

“We just knew the interest was there, it was just about getting the people organized at the school and the field,” she said.

About two dozen students attended a meeting last October to gauge interest in a P.S.A.L. team.

While many of them were Brooklyn residents, the new softball team might move the dual-campus Millennium in a more Downtown direction especially considering an admissions preference for applicants who live below Canal St., said Morrison.

Softball has proliferated in Lower Manhattan in recent years as local parents encourage their daughters to play the sport. The introduction of full windmill pitching into Downtown Little League also increased the competitiveness of local teams. A team of 11-year-olds from the league won the city championship last time while their 14-year-old counterparts won the state title — a first for a Manhattan Little League team.

Though Title IX — which mandates parity in spending between boys and girls sports — passed decades ago, inequity remains in local high schools, according to Friedman. The situation is improving at Millennium where a volleyball team started this year as well as the upcoming softball program, he said.

“There is no reason that there shouldn’t be equal opportunities for girls and boys,” he said. “People will be whatever you allow them to be and if you give them the opportunity to become those athletes, they will.”

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