Two Decades After the Passage of Title IX, Fewer and Fewer Women Fill Coaches' Shoes

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Throughout her entire athletic career at Eau Gallie High School in Melbourne, Fla., Karen Kull never once had a woman coach for any of the four sports she played. Many of the male coaches she had were fine, some even tremendous, she says, but there was one male coach with whom she had a particularly galling experience..

"The man did not know how to coach girls," Ms. Kull, who was both a high-school and college all-American, recalled recently. "He tried to coach us as he would coach a boys' team, and it did not work. He was calling us losers, telling us we weren't worth anything."

''For guys, from what I understand, that would get them pumped up. Girls, on the other hand-and it wasn't just me-started taking that stuff personally," she said.

Ms. Kull's high-school experience is becoming the norm. Since the passage of Title IX of the federal Education Amendments Act 20 years ago this month, a whole generation of girls and young women has enjoyed opportunities to play sports unheard of in their mothers' time. But women seeking leadership positions in athletics have not fared as well.

And experts in the field of women's sports predict that prospects for women coaches and athletic directors are likely to worsen even further if steps are not taken to arrest the decline.

"If the trend continues, it is a short period of time before there will be virtually no women coaches," said Charlotte West, an associate director of athletics at Southern Illinois University.

Academic and Athletic Equity

Title IX was the Congress's way of trying to stamp out sex discrimination in the nation's schools and colleges.

It reads: "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance."

Designed to cover both academics and athletics, the law, experts say, baa not succeeded in wiping out discrimination in either arena. But because sports traditionally have been viewed as a male bastion, discrimination appears to be more entrenched on the playing fields than in the classrooms.

'Title IX ... did not abolish gender discrimination in sport," said Donna Lopiano, the executive director of the men's Sports Foundation. "What it did is send it underground."

The years immediately following the passage of Title IX were a watershed for girls and sports. In 1971, 294,015 girls participated in high-school sports, compared with some 3.7 million boys, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.

By the 1973-74 school year, the year after the law was passed, girls' involvement had leaped to 1.3 million.

Both girls' (2.1 million) and boys' (4.4 million) participation peaked in 1977-78, the year by which schools were supposed to be in full compliance.

Since then, the degree of participation has dropped and leveled off, with boys continuing to participate at about twice the rate of girls.

As girls' participation rose, though, women's involvement as coaches and athletic directors fell.

Few Role Models

If females are ever going to achieve sports equality and get the maximum benefit out of athletics, experts say they need to be exposed to women coaches and athletic directors.

"If all they ever see are male coaches and male athletic directors, they would just unconsciously assume maybe it's O.K. to be an athlete but not O.K. [to pursue sports] as a career," said Susan S. True, an assistant director of the National Federation.

Yevonne R. Smith, an associate professor of physical education at Michigan State University, believes that exposing girls to more women coaches would end some stereotypes.

When one talks to girls in sports, sometimes they indicate a preference for male coaches [because] they see males as competent in sports," said Ms. Smith. "It would be good for them to see women in those roles, to change some of those stereotypes that even girls hold."

But more than role models are at stake. The self-esteem and self-confidence of girls can take a beating not just from the man's style of coaching but from the fact that some men still tend to view girls' and women's sports as a steppingstone, observers say.

In Montana last month, for example, a male coach ignited an uproar with comments he made to the Helena Independent Record.

After leading the Helena High School girls' basketball team to consecutive state championships, Steve Keller resigned to become boys' basketball coach. "I came to Helena with the idea of getting into AA," Mr. Keller said in an interview with the newspaper. "I felt if I did a good job with the girls, I could eventually move up with the boys."

Adding that his experience with the girls had been great, Mr. Keller went on to say that he could not pass up the position. "This is a career move for me," he said.

Np Help From Football Coach

Robin Pace's girls' softball coach at Melbourne High School on Florida's Atlantic coast was also the boys' football coach. "He didn't give a rat's tail about the girls or their scholarships," said Ms. Pace, a Space Coast athlete of the year.

Although the coach helped the boys seek scholarships, she said, as far as the girls were concerned, "he didn't lift a finger; he didn't write a letter." With the help of her mother, she won a scholarship to Florida State University.

"We see over and over again at the high-school level, they will take any man and give him [girls'] volleyball," said Connie M. Thorngren, an associate professor of health, physical education, and recreation at Boise State University. "They would never turn that around and take a woman who played volleyball and have her coach even girls' basketball."

In the days before Title IX, women held the lion's share of coaching nd administrative positions for girls' and women's sports at all levels. In a longitudinal study of women in intercollegiate sport, R. Vivian Acosta and Linda Jean Carpenter, professors in the department of physical education at Brooklyn College, found that 48.3 percent of the coaches of women's teams nationwide are women. In 1972, more than 90 percent of those coaches were women.

While more than 90 percent of the women's athletic programs were headed by a woman in 1972, only 16.8 percent were headed by women this school year.

State studies of interscholastic sports show similar patterns.

Only 17 percent of the head coaches of girls' teams in Montana this school year were women. The percentage of women leading girls' teams in Idaho was 39 percent, compared with 80 percent in 1974.

In 1991 in Florida, 50 percent of the girls' high-school coaches were female, down from 68 percent in 1976. In Michigan in 1990, just 35.5. percent of the girls' coaches were women.

Ms. Smith, one of the researchers who conducted the Michigan study, says that minority women---and men--are even more underrepresented in the coaching corps; only 6.6 percent of the girls' coaches were members of minority groups.

Observers say the dwindling supply can be traced to women leaving the field for such reasons as lack of support, time commitments, isolation, the devaluation of girls' and women's sports, and gender bias.

"Some of the women from my generation got tired of fighting it," said Roberta Stokes, the coordinator of instructional technology at Miami-Dade Community and former volleyball coach.

In turn, women's and girls' advocates contend, this chilly climate has deterred young women from choosing sports as a career because they can see the limited number of women in the field and the obstacles that are often thrown in their path.

In the 1970's, before men's and women's programs were integrated, "I had a whole cadre of young women who saw me as a role model," said Ms. West of Southern Illinois. "They aspired to be director of athletics." Now, she said, "their goals aren't to be directors because they don't see any [women]. They know the probability is so poor."

Ironically, the advent of Title IX itself apparently has proved to be somewhat of an impediment.

"Title IX was great, but in this one respect I think Title IX killed us," Russica P. Tighe, the athletic director at Miami Jackson High School in Dade County, Fla., said.

Until the passage of Title IX, coaches of girls' interscholastic team.s-where they existed-were often unpaid. Women coached teams that were not accorded the resources that the boys' teams had.

But once the federal law mandated equality, including in the area of pay, it was a whole new ballgame.

"I think [the change] caught too many people off guard," said Sharon L. Wilch, an associate commissioner of the Colorado High School Activities Association. "I'h.e women weren't quite ready to step into some of those positions," she said, "and the men saw [coaching a girls' team] as a way to get a head coaching job faster."

Meanwhile, the women who had been working in this wholly segregated field found men rapidly crossing over.

Women can still be found as the predominant coach in some sports--field hockey, lacrosse, and badminton, among others.

But it is in the most popular sports that men have taken over-track, volleyball, softball, and the number one girls' sport, basketball.

Research by a master's-degree candidate at Southern Illinois concludes that there will be no women high school basketball coaches in Illinois by the 1998-99 school year if the number of women coaches continues to decline at the current pace.

The study indicates that the trend in other states is similar.

No Two-Way Street

Yet, said Charlotte West, who oversaw the research at the university, "It's never a two-way street."

Men have come in droves to coach girls' and women's teams. If there were true equality, say advocates for women's and girls' sports, the opposite should be true as well. It is not. Women nationwide hold fewer than 1 percent of the coaching positions on boys' and men's teams.

"What concerns me is the almost complete absence of women in men's sports," said Ms. Lopiano of the Women's Sports Foundation. 1'hat has been a closed shop."

Keeping women out of coaching and administrative positions, Ms. Lopiano and others say, is the near complete control that men continue to have over the administration of student athletics in this country.

Ms. Stokes, who is chairing a commission on women's participation in athletics in Florida, said there are few opportunities for a "good old girls" network comparable to the one that exists among men.

It is not uncommon, she said, for one male athletic director to call another and say, "'Hey Joe, I've got a great basketball coach for you.' For a woman to call and say 'Hey, Joe, have a great women's volleyball coach for you,' it just doesn't seem to have the same impact. "

In the nation's high schools, much of the gender discrepancy can be traced to football.

Football teams need more coach than do other sports, and women typically do not play interscholastic football. Consequently, athletic directors and principals have tended to hire men to coach football in the fall and other boys' and girls' sports in winter and spring, even if the men have no experience coaching the other sports.

"We have here what you call double- dippers, and they happen to be men," said Nancy B. Deden, a parent in Montana who helped spearhead a sports-equity lawsuit against the state and the Montana High School Association.

Ms. Deden points to publications for interscholastic coaches with such how-to advice as, "If you are an enterprising coach, you can coach boys in the fall and girls in the winter."

Pat Callback Harper, a gender-equity specialist in the Montana Office of Public Instruction, said that in her state there has long been a practice of "recruiting teachers with the hidden agenda of hiring coaches."

What the practice apparently has done is cut into the number of women physical-education teachers.In a study of four states across four time periods, Bonnie J. Hultstrand, an associate professor of physical education at the University of Idaho, found that 54.9 percent of the physical- education teachers in 1975-77 were men. By 1988-89, the percent had risen to 59.6. Although the percentage difference appears slight, Ms. Hulstrand points out that the spread between men and women during the time frame increased from 9.8 percent to 19.2 percent.

Leadership Wanting

Women's advocates say that the organizations best equipped to tum the situation around-the National Federation of State High School Associations and its state affiliate&have done little.

In contrast, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, with the recent release of its study of equity issues and formation of a gender-equity committee, "has done so much with [bringing attention to] equity," said Susan P. Schafer, the former sex-equity consultant and now the director of curriculum and instruction for the Colorado education department. "I really wish the federation would do something similar."

At the end of this month, the National Federation will consider changing the composition of its executive board to increase the number of women and minorities. It is currently made up of the executive directors of the state organizations, all but one of whom are men. A second woman takes over in Missouri in July. The proposal would open up board spots to assistant state directors, more of whom are women.

Even if the national group set the tone for incorporating more women into leadership positions, Ms. Lopiano points out that all of the high-school governance takes place at the state level.

"State associations are predominantly white males," Ms. Lopiano said. "If you have 10 women and 10 blacks at their national convention, you have a lot.

No more than a half-dozen of the state associations have undertaken activities aimed at increasing the number of women in coaching and athletic-directing jobs. Some consist of conferences and seminars where women are taught coaching skills.

In the governmental realm, two states-Florida and Minnesota have formed study commissions to determine why there are so many gender inequities in sports 20 years after Title IX and what can be done to remove them.

Ms. Stokes, who heads up the Florida commission, said she believes having more female athletic directors would improve women's coaching opportunities.

In Dade County high schools, 4 of the 25 athletic directors are women, a circumstance Ms. Stokes attributed partly to the creation a few years back of assistant-athletic-director posts from which women can get a boost.

Questions of Competence

When Ms. Schafer was hired as Colorado's sex-equity officer, she started attending games and kept seeing men coaching girls' teams. "I just assumed women would be coaching because it had been 10 years since Title IX was passed."

'lb bring more women into coaching, she organized coaching classes and taught networking skills to women and minorities. She also produced a newsletter that included job openings and a brochure that outlined how to become a coach.

Colorado countered the national trend during the five years the program was in place, increasing the proportion of women coaches from 38 percent to 41 percent.

"It's proof that doing something affirmative will have an impact," Ms. Schafer said.

While acknowledging the good intentions behind these seminars and workshops, Mary Jo Kane, a sports sociologist at the University of Minnesota, worries that they send the wrong message.

Such an approach "poses the danger of implying that the problems rest with individual women rather than institutional discrimination," she said.

Many administrators harbor the perception that male coaches are more competent than women coaches, Ms. Kane believes. In various studies, men cite a lack of qualified women as one of the major causes for the dwindling number of women coaches.

On the contrary, Ms. Kane said, research shows that women are at least as qualified as men to coach.

A survey of high-school athletic directors nationwide by Cynthia Has brook of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee found that women had more experience than did their male counterparts. They were as qualified as men in terms of intercollegiate playing experience, but they were less qualified in high-school playing experience and in coaching male teams.

"Because I believe the root of the problem is institutional, the only way it is going to change is if the institutions and leadership within the institutions change," Ms. Kane said.

There are some positive signs, albeit small ones. Data from the Acosta-Carpenter longitudinal study show that the percentage of women coaching intercollegiate women's teams increased ever so slightly in 1991 and 1992.

The number of female athletic directors also showed a slight increase.

In February, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that victims of intentional discrimination in schools can collect uncapped monetary damages.

"There are new important legal tools, which I am hopeful will help turn things around," said Ellen Varygas, a senior counsel at the National Women's Law Center, "Hearts and mind can follow, but the pocketbook is where it will hit them first."

And in April, a U.S. District Court jury in Oklahoma found that the Bray-Doyle school district discriminated against Linda Sue Bratcher, a music teacher, by denying her the opportunity to coach football.

Ms. Bratcher had been a physical-education major in college, where she played four years in intramural football and three other sports. After graduation, she attended summer coaching clinics and coached girls' basketball.

She later switched districts and served as a substitute coach for junior-high girls' and boys' basketball; she also operated the clock and worked as a spotter at football games.

In 1987, Ms. Bratcher was laid off from her teaching post. Under state law and district policy, she was ~ posed to be recalled when a vacancy occurred for which she was qualified.

Nonetheless, the district hired a male football coach from outside the district, and in 1990 it hired a man straight out of college when the football coach resigned.

The district has agreed to pay Ms. Bratcher $150,000 and to circulate a letter accepting the verdict as well as expressing regret that she was not offered the post.

"At least anymore you can't think it's a joke [that] a woman wants to be a football coach," said Joseph R. Weeks, a law professor at Oklahoma City University Law School who assisted Ms. Bratcher's lawyer. "If it happens in Oklahoma, then it's got significance nationwide."

None of this can come soon enough for Ms. Carpenter of Brooklyn College. Earlier this year, a woman in Indianapolis asked her if it was feasible for women to make progress in student athletics given the constraints of the recession.

Ms. Carpenter replied: "The kids who are in college were not born when Title IX was passed. How long does it take to become feasible?"

Vol. 11, Issue 39, Pages 1, 23-24

Published in Print: June 17, 1992, as Two Decades After the Passage of Title IX, Fewer and Fewer Women Fill Coaches' Shoes
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