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Women Athletes Urge Stricter Enforcement of Title IX

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Washington--Proponents of equal access to athletic programs must create a vast "network" to study the problems of female athletes and to press legislative and legal challenges to unequal treatment, according to participants in what organizers said was the first major conference dedicated to the problems of women in sports.

The meeting, sponsored by the Women's Sports Federation and the U.S. Olympic Committee, boasted several celebrity speakers and attracted several hundred delegates from around the country, including athletes, educators, sportswriters, coaches, and parents.

Before the four-day meeting ended last week, the participants passed 120 resolutions, including six comprehensive resolutions that addressed issues discussed in small workshops. Delegates placed the greatest emphasis on a resolution to press for more thorough implementation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the law that which prohibits discrimination by gender in education programs that receive federal funds.

Conference participants said a U.S. Supreme Court case under consideration this fall, Grove City College v. Bell, could have broad implications for women's equal access to athletic programs. The Reagan Administration, which this year reversed its previous stance to side with the college, contends that Title IX applies not to entire institutions, but only to programs in the institution that receive federal money directly. Opponents of that so-called "program-specific" interpretation of Title IX argue that the Congress intended that the law apply broadly to all programs of institutions that receive either direct federal support or the benefit of federal student-aid funds.

Oral arguments in the case are scheduled for Nov. 29.

If the Court adopts the narrow interpretation promoted by the Reagan Administration, delegates should use the "networks" they developed at the conference to press the Congress to write a Title IX replacement that has broader applications, said Eva Auchincloss, executive director of the wsf,

Ms. Auchincloss contended that Title IX "really hasn't been en-forced." But, she said, "It has raised consciousness and a sense that there was always a threat. If [some schools] do not have a threat, they are likely to be complacent."

Ms. Auchincloss and others noted that women's participation in athletics has increased markedly since Title IX became law. According to figures from the National Federation of State High School Associations, 1.85 million young women took part in scholastic athletics in 1980-81, compared with 294,000 in 1970-71. The proportion of college and university athletic budgets devoted to women's programs jumped from 2 percent to 16.4 percent between 1972 and 1980, another survey found.

Celebrity Status of Speakers

Among those to address the conference were Vice President George Bush; William E. Simon, president of the Olympic committee; Senator Bill Bradley of New Jersey; the tennis champion Billie Jean King; the astronaut Sally Ride, who was a nationally ranked junior tennis player; and the former golf star Carol Mann. Conference organizers also received a letter from President Reagan.

The celebrity status of many speakers, said some delegates to the meeting, might have focused public attention on the problems of the "elite athlete" at the expense of the majority of girls and women who take part in athletics merely for enjoyment and physical well-being.

Ms. King, who founded the Women's Sports Foundation in 1972, created the greatest controversy at the meeting when she told the 500 delegates that they should work toward the day when men and women compete professionally against each other in major sports such as baseball, tennis, track and field, and soccer.

Invoking the language the Supreme Court used in its 1954 decision that outlawed racial segregation in public schools, Ms. King said the notion that "separate but equal is inherently unequal" has "just as much application in sports" as in other fields.

Ms. King noted that the performance of many women today in marathons is better than records held by men as recently as the 1950's and 1960's. If girls' and women's access to training programs continues to increase, she said, women might take part in mixed competition in major sports within the next 50 to 100 years.

But many educators and sports figures who attended the conference questioned whether full integration of sport would serve the interests of female athletes. Stressing opportunities for the top 1 or 2 percent of all female athletes, they said, might sacrifice those for other athletes.

Susan True, assistant to the director of the National Federation of State High School Associations, said she opposed Ms. King's vision of integration of the sexes in athletics. Such an approach would harm the prospects of female athletes, she said, because "research says that girls are different than boys in areas in which it makes a difference in sports competition."

Ms. True said the conference did not give sufficient recognition to the need for establishing equal opportunity in sports at the lowest levels of society. The conference, however, did pass a resolution that called on the delegates to apply greater pressure on school officials and community organizations to give girls and boys equal encouragement in athletics starting at an early age.

In a paper presented at one of the workshops, Jane E. Clark, associate professor of physical education at the University of Maryland, contended that the extent to which boys and girls develop athletic skills varies widely--mostly because of the "socialization" of the children by families, schools, peers, and the media.

There are no major differences in the motor skills of boys and girls entering kindergarten, with the "possible exception" of male superiority in throwing, Ms. Clark said. But from that time until the students reach puberty, she said, boys gain greater abilities in such skills as running, jumping, kicking, and striking objects.

Gap Between Motor Skills

The growing gap between the motor skills of boys and girls can be traced almost wholly to the amount of practice children engage in, Ms. Clark said. "Motor skills are acquired over years of moving," Ms. Clark said. "The differences ... are differences that took years to evolve." Boys, she said, spend more time on athletic pursuits than girls.

Other research presented at the conference suggested that Americans might be willing to provide more sports opportunities for the younger generation of girls.

A survey conducted this year by the Miller Brewing Company found that 93 percent of all men and women would favor a son becoming a professional athlete, and 86 percent would favor a daughter becoming a professional athlete. Seventy percent said they were equally interested in men's and women's sports, and 92 percent said male and female athletes should be paid equally.

Still, conference participants said, many social attitudes--and not just laws--must change before women attain equal access to athletic programs and equal recognition for their abilities.

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