Equity & Diversity

Title IX Commission Shifts Focus to Equity in K-12 Sports

By Michelle R. Davis — September 25, 2002 5 min read
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In the first formal discussion by members of a commission studying Title IX, panelists made it clear last week they have more questions than answers at this point. But the commissioners mapped out the information they need to hear in the future.

During the second of four town hall meetings to discuss the landmark legislation that requires equal opportunities for girls and women, and its impact on athletics today, board members said they needed hard numbers mapping out sports participation by males and females at both the high school and college levels.

They said they wanted to hear from athletic directors who had been forced to cut men’s teams to comply with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Give us legal case histories and financial data, they said.

And they want to hear success stories from schools that found ways to comply with the law in ways that seemed fair to both male and female athletes.

But commissioners also said they wanted to hear more from one another to prepare for writing a report on the state of Title IX, due for delivery to Secretary of Education Rod Paige Jan. 31. Though it was their second meeting, commissioners had heard only from experts and the public at the first gathering and did not engage in discussions themselves.

The Chicago meeting of the Commission on Opportunity in Athletics, held Sept. 17-18, focused on issues affecting K-12 education and junior colleges. The previous meeting, held in Atlanta in August, dealt with colleges and universities, as will the final two get-togethers. (“Diverse Title IX Panel Takes on Tough Task,” Sept. 4, 2002.)

In both Chicago and Atlanta, board members heard from a long list of parents, coaches, former and current athletes, and advocacy- group representatives who extolled Title IX’s virtues or detailed its failures. Some say enforcement of the law has hurt men’s sports, causing some schools to cut teams for men. Under Title IX regulations, a school may satisfy the law’s requirements if its athletic teams contain roughly the same percentages of males and females as are in the school’s student enrollment.

K-12 Successes

But those involved with high school sports told the commission that they have been more successful in enforcing Title IX than their counterparts in higher education.

“We haven’t made the promised land yet,” said Griff Powell, a retired superintendent who led five different school districts during his tenure. But he said he made sure in his districts that male and female athletes had equal opportunities without slashing men’s sports.

“We didn’t let proportionality, gender quotas, or budget limitations inhibit growth and program development,” he said. “It’s been a struggle, but we’ve battled.”

Washington Bush, the director of athletics at Conant High School in Hoffman Estates, Ill., said as a high school athlete himself he never gave much thought to the fact that the girls wore mismatched uniforms and played at unpopular times. In retrospect, he said, the inadequacies were “shocking and unbelievable.”

The school where he now works has 14 girls’ teams and 14 boys’ teams, cheerleaders just began cheering at girls’ games too, and he tries to hire female coaches for girls’ teams to provide athletic role models. Other schools, including colleges and universities, “need to stop making excuses and hold yourself accountable,” Mr. Bush said.

But Kathleen M. McGee, the director of athletics and head girls’ basketball coach at Powers Catholic High School in Flint, Mich., said though her school tried to provide equal opportunities, it was sued. Some girls’ teams held their seasons at nontraditional times of the year in order to share facilities like gyms and buses with boys’ teams, she said. A federal judge ruled in August that the Michigan High School Athletic Association must change schedules so that girls’ volleyball and basketball teams play in more traditional seasons.

Ms. McGee and other high school officials also urged the commissioners to close the gap between high school and college sports. For example, some colleges and universities are adding women’s crew to their athletic portfolios, since that sport can add many women to the roster—good for schools trying to pump up their numbers of women athletes. But in some of those same states, only a handful out of thousands of high schools offer crew as a sport, because they are far from a body of water that could provide training.

“Colleges should be more aware of what’s going on in the high schools when they’re expanding their college” offerings, Ms. McGee said.

Junior colleges, too, face unique problems. For example, they enroll many nontraditional students who are still counted when doing calculations about the equitable number of men and women scholarship athletes.

Kathleen Welch, the dean of students and athletic director at Kennedy-King College, one of the City Colleges of Chicago, said many of the students at her school are in their 30s, hold down full-time jobs, are single mothers, or have children. For one or all of those reasons, they are unlikely to participate in team sports, she said, but still must be factored into the Title IX equation, possibly to the detriment of men’s sports.

‘Outside the Box’

During subcommittee discussions, panelists said they were particularly concerned about the huge rise in coaching salaries in sports like football. “I see the opulence of some of our revenue-generating athletic programs and then see some programs being dropped, supposedly because of Title IX, and you have to wonder, ‘Gee, is this fair?’ ” said Ted Leland, the director of athletics at Stanford University and a co-chairman of the panel.

Commissioner Donna de Varona, a former Olympic swimmer and the original president of the Women’s Sports Foundation, suggested that colleges partner with independent sports commissions, possibly in sports such as gymnastics or swimming, to pool resources for fund-raising and facilities. She urged the commissioners to think “outside the box.”

Gerald A. Reynolds, the Department of Education’s assistant secretary for civil rights and an ex-officio member of the commission, said he believes it is important to look at how traditional and nontraditional students are factored into the equation. Others members talked about homing in on the use of proportionality to measure success with Title IX, and whether there was a better way to use that measurement.

Members of the audience praised the discussions. “In general, they’re being pretty open-minded and fair,” said Wendy Berutto, a program administrator for the National Association for Girls and Women in Sport, based in Reston, Va. “They’ve asked questions in areas they haven’t been charged to look into but that play a big role in Title IX.”

“They’re not going to slouch off,” said Betty Jaynes, an Atlanta-based consultant for the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association. “They know the country’s eyes are on them.”

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