Equity & Diversity

Mich. Eyes New Sports Schedules To Help Girls

By John Gehring — June 05, 2002 3 min read
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A court-ordered plan to restructure Michigan’s high school sports seasons so they are more equitable for female athletes is getting a cool reception—even from some of those it is intended to help.

The Michigan High School Athletic Association has unveiled a plan to comply with last year’s ruling by the U.S. District Court in Kalamazoo, Mich., that the association discriminated against girls by scheduling some of their athletic seasons during nontraditional times of the year.

Michigan is one of the few states, for example, where girls play basketball in the fall and volleyball in the winter.

The schedule, Judge Richard A. Enzlen ruled, hurts participants’ chances for college scholarships and violates the equal- protection clause of the 14th Amendment, as well as Title IX, the 1972 federal law that bars sex discrimination in education programs that receive federal money.

A group of parents concerned about opportunities for female athletes brought the case as a class action in 1998. The court ruling required the athletic association to submit a new plan that would have girls and boys sharing the “advantages” and “disadvantages,” as they pertain to college recruiting, of realigned seasons.

South Dakota switched girls’ volleyball and basketball seasons two years ago after facing a similar legal challenge. North Dakota will change those seasons for girls beginning the next school year.

Under the plan proposed May 22 by the MHSAA, the girls’ golf, swimming and diving, and tennis seasons would be moved to more traditional seasons. Girls’ basketball, volleyball, and soccer seasons would stay the same. Boys would play golf, swimming and diving, and tennis in the nontraditional times of the year.

The athletic association also proposed starting four new postseason tournaments for girls before adding any new tournaments for boys. The federal court will hold a hearing on the plan July 18.

The court had ruled that the plan must bring sports seasons into compliance by next school year. But on May 9, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in Cincinnati, issued a stay in the lawsuit that will likely delay until at least 2004-05 any scheduling changes.

Concerns Remain

Diane Madsen, one of the original plaintiffs, who filed suit on behalf of her three daughters, said the plan would do little to address fundamental inequity and would leave the most popular girls’ sports—basketball and volleyball—in the same seasons. Under the MHSSA’s plan, she said, a majority of athletes playing during a nontraditional time are girls.

“It seems like such a basic civil rights issue,” Ms. Madsen said last week. “It’s about the second-class status assigned to girls.”

But John E. Roberts, the executive director of the MHSAA, contends that switching seasons for volleyball and basketball would not have satisfied the court order. He defends the association’s record of providing girls equitable opportunities. The state ranks third nationally, he said, in the number of girls playing volleyball and basketball, even though Michigan ranks eighth in population.

After four months of surveying schools, the association found most members didn’t want any scheduling changes. “We believe the scheduling has maximized participation opportunities for girls and boys,” Mr. Roberts said.

Mark Thomas, the athletic director at Northview High School in Grand Rapids, Mich., said advocates on both sides of the issue have made legitimate arguments.

“This has turned out to be a dogged fight,” he said. While Mr. Thomas was disappointed the state’s plan wouldn’t change the seasons for girls’ basketball and volleyball, he said most female athletes at his 1,150- student school don’t spend a lot of time worrying about the schedules.

“They just want to be able to compete and have fun,” Mr. Thomas said.

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A version of this article appeared in the June 05, 2002 edition of Education Week as Mich. Eyes New Sports Schedules To Help Girls

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