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Booster clubs for high school sports face Title IX scrutiny

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 16, 2010

High school booster clubs take note: Uncle Sam may start checking the books to see that the boys and the girls get the same cut.

The National Women's Law Center has thrown down the gauntlet and plans to spread the fight over sports funding issues from colleges and universities to the nation's high schools. Booster-club services - even Mom baking cookies for the team - is one of the issues already on the table.

Until recently, the battles over sex equality in sports programs largely occurred on college campuses. But as institutions of higher learning have complied better with the 1972 Title IX law, advocates for women's sports increasingly have turned their attention to public high schools.

For Title IX critics, the major criticism is the same at every level: Compliance comes at the expense of boys because school officials respond to lawsuits by cutting male teams to make the athlete and dollar numbers even. Others are noting disparities in other extracurricular activities that favor girls.

Characterizing its sex-discrimination complaints as the "tip of the iceberg," the National Women's Law Center last week registered one administrative complaint in each of the 12 regional offices of the Education Department's Office of Civil Rights, and in each instance, the organization listed sports programs that a school district sanctioned for boys but not girls.

"These 12 school districts are the tip of the iceberg," said Marcia D. Greenberger, co-president of the National Women's Law Center. "Nationwide, only 41 percent of all high school athletes are girls, even though they make up half the student population. That means schools are giving girls 1.3 million fewer opportunities than boys to play sports nationwide. It's past time to rally for girls in high school sports."

Several months ago, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced that Education's civil rights office would be vigilant on Title IX compliance.

In Chicago, where Mr. Duncan served as schools chief before joining the Obama administration, girls face discrimination, the complaint says, because the school system doesn't field badminton, bowling or gymnastics teams. In New York, the sports listed in the filing include field hockey, and swimming and diving, and in North Carolina's Wake Forest School District, the complaint cites lacrosse and indoor track.

In addition to Chicago, Wake Forest and New York, the women's law group filed complaints against school districts in Clark County, Nev.; Columbus, Ohio; Deer Valley, Ariz.; Henry County, Ga.; Irvine, Calif.; Oldham County, Ky.; Sioux Falls, S.D.; Worcester, Mass.; and Houston.

Although no action was taken against D.C. Public Schools, local lawmakers, who are facing budget woes, held a public hearing on Title IX sports compliance the same day that the Women's Law Center announced its filings.

The D.C. Title IX Athletic Compliance Act, co-sponsored by all 13 D.C. Council members, looks beyond individual sports. It reaches into grade schools and mandates that locker rooms, coaching and medical staff, and fields of play be equalized as well.

"We don't have girls playing football, but we can't go backward on girls and sports," council member Yvette Alexander said. "The new H.D. Woodson High School will have new boys' and girls' athletic facilities."

However, the chairman of the College Sports Council (CSC), Eric Pearson, questioned whether the District of Columbia and other school districts can financially afford meeting sex quotas in sports, and he pointed out that, sports and band aside, girls usually outnumber boys in every other extracurricular activity.

"It is our concern that, under the threat of litigation on the one hand and budget pressures on the other, schools will likely choose to cut the number of male athletes rather than increase female participation in order to prove compliance with Title IX's gender quota," Mr. Pearson said. "It would be equally unfair and unreasonable to enforce gender quotas on activities like dance and drama as it is with sports."

With an estimated 4.4 million boys and 3.1 million girls playing sports in high school, officials likely would cut on the boys' side of the equation to reach a 50-50 ratio, he said.

Such claims have long been the major complaint against Title IX. A 2007 longitudinal study of NCAA athletic participation by the CSC shows that universities in recent decades have ensured compliance with Title IX largely by cutting men's teams.

"The results were clear. ... Opportunities for men have decreased," Allison Kasic wrote about the CSC study in a June position paper for the Independent Women's Forum. "From 1981 to 2005, male athletes per school declined 6 percent, and men's teams per school dropped 17 percent. Meanwhile, female athletes per school rose 34 percent, and women's teams per school rose 34 percent."

Meanwhile, Ms. Kasic noted, women have had more teams than men since 1995 and "every male sport, with the exception of baseball, has decreased or remained static. Non-revenue sports such as wrestling, tennis, and gymnastics have been the hardest hit."

In October, officials at the University of California at Berkeley announced the elimination of five NCAA programs, including women's lacrosse and its championship men's rugby team, citing sex equity and donor impact among the reasons for the decision.

But even when school budgets aren't an issue, Title IX can come into play because, the National Federation of State High School Associations says, money raised by parent booster clubs should be dedicated to a school's entire athletic program.

Booster funds were at the core of one recent Pennsylvania case.

Officials with a suburban Philadelphia school board announced that a settlement on a complaint claiming disparate booster funding had been reached with the Education Department's civil rights office.

Although the settlement says the Council Rock School District admits no liability, the agreement concludes that booster funding can create a "disparate impact for females or men," Council Rock Superintendent Mark Klein said.

The women's group filed the complaints seven months after Mr. Biden and Mr. Duncan said the Obama administration would make Title IX enforcement a priority.

"Making Title IX as strong as possible is a no-brainer," Mr. Biden said in April. "What we're doing here today will better ensure equal opportunity in athletics and allow women to realize their potential - so this nation can realize its potential."

Mr. Duncan concurred.

"There is no doubt that Title IX has dramatically increased athletic, academic and employment opportunities for women and girls, and educational institutions have made big strides in providing equal opportunities in sports," Mr. Duncan said. "Yet discrimination continues to exist in college athletic programs - and we should be vigilant in enforcing the law and protecting this important civil right."

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