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Published in Print: April 19, 1995, as Inequities in Girls' Sports Programs in Neb. Alleged

Inequities in Girls' Sports Programs in Neb. Alleged

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In a rare foray into the realm of secondary school athletics, lawyers have filed federal suits on behalf of high school girls in western Nebraska, alleging that their school districts have violated the federal law barring sex discrimination in education.

The class actions, which were filed last week in U.S. District Court in Omaha, allege that the Fremont, Holdrege, Minden, and North Platte districts, each of which operates one high school, fail to provide their female students with equal opportunities to take part in interscholastic sports.

The suits charge that the girls, compared with boys, get inferior sports equipment, supplies, and uniforms and unequal scheduling, travel, per diems, coaching, locker rooms, cheerleading, band performances, and publicity. Roughly 1,500 girls attend the four high schools.

The complaints seek the addition of softball to the girls' program and equitable treatment of female athletes.

District officials maintain that they are not violating the federal law, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, and some say they have letters from the U.S. Education Department's office for civil rights to prove it. The O.C.R. has investigated all four districts; inquiries are completed in all but the Fremont district.

Most Title IX suits charging gender inequities in athletic programs have targeted colleges and universities.

"Only a small handful of cases have been [directed] at the high school level," said Deborah L. Brake, the counsel for the National Women's Law Center, a Washington-based group that is representing the Nebraska students and their parents. Ms. Brake predicted that the continuing success of lawsuits against colleges will spur more Title IX complaints at the high school level.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs also said a challenge to the Nebraska districts was imperative because, they argued, the alleged inequities are so inbred and pervasive.

"They are afraid what Title IX will do is hurt football," said Kristen Galles, a lawyer with the Washington firm of Powell, Goldstein, Frazer & Murphy, which is also representing the girls.

Softball in Dispute

The girls in Nebraska filed suit after their districts refused to form girls' softball teams. The girls' parents thought that adding softball to the schools' athletic programs would help balance the playing opportunities.

A private group helped organize and provided seed money for a network of club softball teams for the girls to demonstrate how much interest there was in the sport.

Naomi Fritson said she and her husband spent about $3,500 last year to help sponsor the team for Ms. Fritson's daughter, Sarah Casper, a high school junior in Minden.

Last fall, 22 high school and about 15 junior high girls signed up, Ms. Fritson said, but the district would not budge from its position.

The softball dispute was just one of many injustices that Ms. Fritson maintained her daughter and other girls have experienced.

Girls' basketball games, for example, were played in midweek, while boys played on weekends. For one away game, Ms. Fritson said, her daughter was pulled from class at 2 P.M. for a two-hour trip, played her game, returned home at 1 A.M., and then studied for three tests she had that day.

"That is definitely an academic advantage for boys," Ms. Fritson said.

Superintendents' Views

Scott Maline, the Minden superintendent, said the district chose not to offer girls' softball as a sanctioned sport because Minden High School's size classification would make it ineligible to compete with any other teams in the area. In addition, the school already offers girls' volleyball, cross-country, and golf during the fall.

"We felt we didn't need another," said Mr. Maline, who added that the school offers only one more sport for boys than for girls.

He also said that as a result of the O.C.R. investigation, the district had made some scheduling changes so that girls get to play more of their basketball games during prime time.

Superintendent D. Dale Deriese of the Holdrege schools argued that offering softball as a sanctioned sport would be to the girls' disadvantage because they would have to choose from among cross-country, volleyball, golf, and softball. As long as softball remains a club sport, he said, girls can play more than one.

Mr. Deriese also said that the federal agency cleared his district of any wrongdoing in a 1993 letter.

Vol. 14, Issue 30, Page 3

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