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Complaint about girls sports out of bounds

On Sports
by: L.E. Baskow Cross-country runners from Portland Interscholastic League schools start the 2009 district meet at Grant High.

You may have seen the story that received front-page coverage in The Oregonian last week on the complaint filed in Seattle, alleging discrimination by 60 Oregon school districts for failure to provide equal opportunities for girls to play sports.

Shame on the daily newspaper for giving it that kind of play.

The word 'frivolous' comes to mind, but somebody went to a lot of trouble with the 594-page brief filed in April with the Seattle branch of the U.S. Office for Civil Rights.

The anonymous complainant - doesn't seem right, does it? - is suspected to be the same person who previously filed a similar grievance with 100 districts in the state of Washington.

The charge is that all the accused districts are violating Title IX by not offering girls the same opportunities as boys.

A representative from the Office of Civil Rights told The Oregonian the office is determining if the complaint is worthy of 'investigation and resolution.'

According to the story, 'It is not enough to simply offer girls sports; districts must also ensure participation levels remain steady or increase in relation to the school's enrollment of girls. Should numbers decrease, districts are urged to find sports of interest for girls.'

Title IX mandates that schools must comply with one of three requirements:

• The percentage of male and female athletes are about the same as the percentages of male and female students enrolled at the school.

• The school has a history of expanding opportunities for girls who have been excluded from sports.

• The school is meeting the athletic interests and abilities of the girls.

There is so much to find fault with here, it's hard to know where to start.

When Title IX was introduced in 1972, it was welcome legislation. Girls and women were not getting sufficient opportunity to play sports at both the high school and college levels.

In the nearly four decades since then, the balance has swung so far the other way, boys and men at times are getting the short end of the stick.

I don't believe that's what those who wrote the legislation had in mind.

Let's start with the provision, 'Districts must … ensure participation levels remain steady or increase in relation to the school's enrollment of girls. Should numbers decrease, districts are urged to find sports of interest for girls.'

Uh, why?

Why must the ratio of girls in sports correlate to that of enrollment at a school? If girls aren't as interested in sports, why are the districts given the duty of finding 'sports of interest' for them?

Anyone who believes girls on the average are as interested in sports as boys on the average should submit to a drug test. Check out the local open gym or park basketball courts or soccer fields and tell me the proportion of men to women. You'll find women, but not in the same numbers as men.

Hit the local sports bar and scope out the number of women catching a game on the big screen. Sorry, the ratio is nothing close to even.

That said, schools in Oregon have acted in good faith to provide equal opportunities to girls and women to participate in athletics.

What about cheerleading?

Prior to revelation of the complaint with the civil rights office, the Oregon Schools Activities Association had scheduled a mandatory two-hour Title IX workshop during its annual school administrators conference in August.

On the OSAA website, numbers of state participants in all sports from the past school year are listed. Examples:

Cross country: boys 3,377, girls 2,620; soccer: boys 5,818, girls 5,408; basketball: boys 7,703, girls 6,238; swimming: boys 2,033, girls 2,494; track and field: boys 8,933, girls 6,726; baseball: boys 6,194; softball: girls 4,236; golf: boys 1,888, girls 1,036; tennis: boys 2,305, girls 2,960.

Assuming the split of boys and girls in the schools are close to 50 percent, those numbers seem reasonable to me on all counts. In most sports, there is a little more participation among boys, though not by a huge amount. In two sports - swimming and tennis - the girls numbers are greater than the boys. I don't hear any outcry for the need to increase the boys numbers in those sports. How come?

Cheerleading and dance - activities girls are traditionally more interested in than boys - are not included in the proportionality test, by the way. Why not?

'Competitive cheer is an official activity at Glencoe and at a lot of schools,' Glencoe Athletic Director Scott Ellis says. 'Our dance team is almost a year-round activity. Isn't that a sport? But it's not included in the numbers. It should be.'

The OSAA sponsors state competitions in both cheerleading and dance, 'and there is a movement nationally to make cheer specifically more like a sport,' OSAA Executive Director Tom Welter says. 'If we were able to include that, it would provide more balance to our numbers.'

Athletic directors throughout the state - committed to providing excellent opportunities for female athletes - are scratching their heads over this anonymous complaint.

'We went through a similar review from the (Hillsboro school) district not long ago, with lawyers reviewing everything,' Ellis said. 'Nothing came out that suggests that girls are discriminated against.

'The complaint here was that not as many girls are out for athletics as boys. To me, that's a choice - because the opportunity is there. You go back in time, you'll find more boys participate in high school athletics than girls just because of interest.'

At Glencoe, 15 boys make the varsity and junior varsity golf teams.

'We have to make cuts every year,' Ellis says. 'This year, we had seven girls out for golf, so we had only one team. We're begging girls to go out. In instances like that, girls don't take advantage of it as much as the boys.'

Sometimes, interest is cyclical.

'Two years ago, we had only one softball team because we didn't have enough girls out for the sport,' Franklin AD Scott Santangelo says. 'This year, we had only one baseball team because we didn't have enough boys out.

'We offer everything we can to our kids. We try to do as much recruiting of both boys and girls to get as many people out. We try to get everybody we can out for sports.'

In general, Santangelo says, boys are more interested in sports at Franklin.

'If we have an open gym for boys, a lot of kids show up,' he says. 'For girls, they don't. Why that is, I don't know.

'The coaches are always trying to get girls out, but they don't have the same interest level. It's hard to get girls out at the same rate as boys.'

Funding issues

Title IX also mandates that matching boys and girls sports get exactly the same funding.

'If someone wants to donate $1,000 to our baseball program, the school district is obligated to equal that donation to softball,' Ellis says. 'I understand the idea behind that, but sometimes it does limit what we can do.'

The funding issue is even more dramatic at the college level, where scholarship money must be leveled between men and women - even though football's large numbers (85 scholarships) tips the scales heavily. To balance the scales, Oregon State offers 20 scholarships for women's crew and none for men's crew, a direct result of Title IX legislation.

'Warner Pacific has indicated to us that if we have any decent girls golfers, they have (scholarship) money for them,' Santangelo says. 'They're looking for (women) to give rides.'

Sports have been an important part of the lives of thousands of girls and young women in our state in the past four decades, and rightfully so. We've had some great ones, from Anna Maria Lopez to Cindy Brown to Carol Menken to Lindsay Berman to Cisca Mok to Allison Hanna to Rebecca Kim to Kara Braxton to Elizabeth Brenner to Shoni Schimmel - I could go on and on.

Then there are the greater numbers of girls who have merely participated and had fun and benefited from the joy of competition without achieving greatness.

The point is, there is no shortage of opportunity for girls in sports in our state.

Anyone who is up on the soapbox saying it ain't so needs a reality check.