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Prep Voices : An Even Field? : Are Boys' and Girls' Athletic Programs Treated Equally at the High School Level?

November 01, 1994|BOB ROHWER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subject to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."

--Title IX, signed by President Richard Nixon, June 23, 1972

Bottom line: Title IX, a federal law, banned discrimination in high school athletics.

Results: Girls' participation in high school sports rose nearly 1,000%--from 294,015 in the 1971-72 school year to a high of 2.98 million in 1977-78, according to surveys conducted by the National Federation of State High School Assns.

Last year, the survey said the figure fell to 2.12 million, partly attributed to a decline in enrollment.

Meanwhile, the number of boys participating in high school sports went from 3.67 million in 1971 to a high of 4.37 million in 1977-78 (those Baby Boomer years), back to 3.48 million last year.

So that means no discrimination, right? That means girls are getting the same opportunity as boys to play high school sports, right?

Well . . .

Another survey by the National Federation found that a typical high school offers eight girls' sports with 15 teams and 10 boys' sports with 18 teams. A majority of schools responding indicated an increase in girls' programs and virtually no increase in boys' programs.

You may have come a long way, baby, but just try to find an athletic director anywhere who will go on the record saying high school girls' sports are getting treated the same as the boys.

Lillian Brabander, who retired in 1992 after 29 years as the Estancia High girls' athletic director--including 25 as badminton coach--is a lifetime advocate of girls' sports.

Before there was Title IX, there was the Girls Athletic Assn., which stressed participation over competition, and having fun over winning. And the girls loved it, Brabander said.

Estancia had 350 girls in the program on average. Today, only about 200 girls play on Eagle teams.

Revenue from annual dues--50 cents per girl--and proceeds from an annual car wash provided the program's entire budget. Girls supplied their uniforms, the school custodian drove them to away games on the bus, and parental pressure didn't exist. Neither did specialization.

"Girls didn't practice two hours a day like they do now," said Brabander, who lives in Huntington Beach. "They didn't play (one sport) year-round. The best athletes were all-around athletes. I think it made for more fun."

When Title IX was signed into law, it signaled a serious turn for girls' sports.

It has had, perhaps, the most impact on college programs.

In an attempt to bring their athletic departments closer to compliance with the federal statute, many universities have dropped traditional men's programs and added non-traditional women's programs so comparable numbers of men and women would have a chance to compete.

Cal State Fullerton dropped men's gymnastics and women's volleyball but was forced to reinstate the volleyball program after the school was found to be in violation of Title IX.

UCLA, once a national power in men's swimming, no longer fields a team. San Diego State has a women's track and field program, but not a men's program. And USC added women's water polo as a varsity sport this year. Getting in line with Title IX, at the collegiate level, is a numbers game.

Surveys have shown that a majority of operating budgets are still spent on men's teams, and an even larger majority of recruiting funds are spent for male athletes. Accordingly, many women choose not to pursue athletics in college. Fewer opportunities discourage aspiring high school athletes, who have fewer role models.

Most high school girls can't even look to their own coaches as role models. Research last January showed that only 31% of the varsity head coaching positions for girls' sports in Orange County were held by women. In large-team sports such as soccer and track, the percentage is less than a fourth.

In an interview with The Times in 1992, Mark Trakh, then coach of the Brea-Olinda girls' basketball team, observed the plight of women's coaches in the county:

"If you look around the county and every time there's a job opening for a girls' coach, chances are it will be a walk-on position. If it's a boys' coach, chances are it will be an on-campus teaching position.

"When I coach all-star teams, I'll ask the players, 'Are girls' basketball teams just as important as the boys' teams on campus?' And the kids say, 'No way, are you kidding? (Boys) get the gym. And they care more about the boys than they do us.' I get that answer 80% to 90% of the time. You won't get that answer at Brea."

Brea-Olinda, by the way, has won five State championships in girls' basketball and often outdraws its boys' team, raising an interesting question:

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