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Mich. Athletic Association Sues E.D.

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The Michigan High School Athletic Association filed suit in federal court earlier this month to prevent the U.S. Education Department from continuing an investigation of sex discrimination in the state's interscholastic athletics program.

The association, which operates the interscholastic sports program in the state, asked the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan to order the department's office for civil rights (ocr) to stop investigating complaints of sex discrimination and to refrain from issuing any "letters of finding" that may result from the investigation.

The association said in court papers that the Education Department's (ed) actions amounted to "unwanted and unjust" interference in association affairs.

Vern L. Norris, the executive director of the association, said the ocr had ordered the mhsaa to implement changes in the scheduling of high-school sports by Sept. 7. He said the federal department has no authority over the association because it receives no federal funds.

But Kenneth Mines, the regional ocr director, said his office never ordered the association to make any changes, and he agreed that ed has no jurisdiction over the association. He said the department merely had asked the state group to help develop a solution to charges of sex discrimination made against five school districts in the state.

Mr. Mines said his office might take formal action against the five districts if neither the association nor the districts respond to the federal inquiry. So far, he said, four of the districts have indicated a willingness to change any discriminatory practices.

Out Of Season Competition

At the center of the department's investigation is the state group's practice of scheduling competition in many girls' sports--such as basketball, swimming, golf, and tennis--out of season, that is, during times of the year when the sports are not traditionally played.

The mhsaa holds that its practices--for example, scheduling girls' basketball in the fall instead of winter--allow schools to use facilities over a greater period, to reduce the number of officials needed to officiate athletic contests, and to give athletes more time to practice.

"There are not that many golf courses or tennis courts or swimming pools," said Mr. Norris. "Far more youngsters have the opportunity to compete [because of the split seasons]."

Mr. Norris also said four surveys of member high schools had shown overwhelming support for the split seasons. In the latest survey, conducted in 1981, 88 percent of all school officials said they preferred split seasons.

But the Education Department maintains that the arrangement restricts the girls' opportunity to compete. Under the split-season arrangement, for example, 194 Michigan schools now offer girls more than one sport during the win-ter season; that number would be increased to 413 if ed proposals are followed.

Mr. Mines said only five states use split-season schedules similar to Michigan's.

The federal agency has also criticized the makeup of the association's representative council, an administrative advisory body, and other committees that are elected by school superintendents in the state. The fact that most school superintendents are white males leads to an unfair representation of white males on the committee, according to the complaints filed with the department.

The department has suggested that the mhsaa avoid quotas but develop "an expanded affirmative-action plan" to place more women and minorities on the panels.

The association originally filed the suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District, but Judge Charles W. Joiner ruled that the suit belonged in the district court's western district. Association lawyers earlier this month filed the suit in that court.

The mhsaa filed the new suit despite a suggestion by Judge Joiner that it attempt to work with the federal agency to end the apparent sex discrimination in Michigan's high-school athletic programs.

"It seems to me that there should be efforts on the part of people who are charged in various ways with these various programs to try to work together to see that the young women in the various high schools in the state are not treated as second-class citizens," Judge Joiner said.

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