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Fair Ball? Women Coaches Seem to Come Up Short : Athletics: More girls are competing, resulting in more jobs, but men still have most of them.


Women's athletics may have come a long way, but most of the people coaching high school girls' sports in Orange County are men.

More than 20 years after Title IX put teeth into the women's sports movement, only 31% of the varsity head coaching positions for girls' sports in the county are held by women. In large-team sports such as soccer and track, the percentage is less than a fourth.

That creates a problem, says Encinitas sports psychologist Lucy Jo Palladino.

"It would be an unusual male coach," she said, "who could successfully understand, who could relate to, a majority of young female athletes."

But not everyone agrees with Palladino's assessment.

Dr. Brent Rushall, keynote speaker at the 1990 World Conference of Sports Psychology and a four-time U.S. Olympic team psychologist, is one of them.

"Coaching is dependent upon education, the ability to perform the characteristics of successful coaching, how you positively inform kids, the quality of the program, getting them to improve," he said. "That's very androgynous."

Women's coaching positions have increased because of Title IX, which provided for gender equity in high school and college athletics. But consider the sports in which women coaches are most prominent in Orange County: gymnastics (50%), girls' tennis (43%), softball (41%) and field hockey (40%); notably, there are only four gymnastics programs in the county and 10 field hockey teams.

Even the one sport most identified with girls suffers. Volleyball has been a sanctioned sport for girls since 1972--the boys had one division competing in 1974 but its participation numbers didn't take off until 1986-87--and 39% of the girls' head coaches are women. Perhaps more surprising, given the number of women who understand the sport, is that only 17% of the boys' volleyball coaches are female.

Based on the number of participants nationally, the most popular girls' sports, in addition to volleyball and tennis, are basketball (with 23% women head coaches in Orange County) and cross-country (25%). The percentage of women coaching large-team girls' sports--soccer (24%), swimming (28%) and track and field (16%)--is well under one-third.

Women make up 36% of the coaches for badminton, a co-ed sport.

Some schools are doing a great job of maintaining gender equity among the coaching ranks. Mater Dei and first-year Aliso Niguel have eight head coaching positions filled by women.

University, Mater Dei and Ocean View have at least two boys' programs under the direction of women.

Which schools have the lowest numbers? Excluding small schools, which often have fewer teams and smaller staffs, El Dorado, Foothill, Trabuco Hills and Santa Ana have no female head coaches, and Capistrano Valley has one--its gymnastics coach. Almost as bad is Fountain Valley, with a student enrollment of more than 1,900, whose only female head is girls' basketball Coach Carol Strausburg, who was hired 16 years ago.

But those schools have a defender in Newport Harbor girls' basketball Coach Shannon Jakosky, who grew up in an athletic environment as the daughter of Ralph Miller, the Oregon State men's basketball coach for 19 years.

"There aren't that many available women who know what they're doing," she said. "Are you looking for parity? The market pool is not there. The cream of the coaching crop is going immediately into the collegiate ranks, where it is most profitable. If I weren't doing this for fun, what enticement would I have to go teach in a public school and take on the problems that you take on?"

Before Title IX, there were 32,000 members of the Assn. of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women. The AIAW disbanded in 1982, but there were 94,920 women athletes in the NCAA in 1993.

Girls' sports have become more popular, not only at the collegiate level, but also in high schools.

According to figures from the National Federation of State High School Assns., the number of high school female participants in 1992-93 was 1,997,489; 10 years earlier, there were 1,779,972. By comparison, the number of boys participating has remained about 3.4 million since 1988-87.

Greater access to facilities generated more female players, more teams and more coaching opportunities. Nationally, women held 90% of the coaching positions for girls' teams in 1972 because administrators sought anyone who would take on that responsibility, but by 1992, they held only 48.3%. As heads of programs, those numbers decreased from 90% to 16.8%. At the high school level, 90% of girls' team coaches were women in 1980, but that figure is now down to 35%, according to the Women's Sports Foundation.

So, there are more jobs but fewer women's coaches.

Here's why:

* Mariah Burton Nelson, who wrote "Good Sports: Women's Ways of Playing," contends that winning and losing aren't as important to women as being involved in games. Men tend to place more emphasis on hierarchy and who wins and loses. Women look at the competition as a means to better their own level of achievement as participants.

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