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High Schools | Eric Sondheimer

It Could Use a Tweak, but Title IX Is Needed

October 27, 2002|Eric Sondheimer

There's a reevaluation of Title IX, the landmark legislation enacted 30 years ago that prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded education programs, taking place.

A panel of sports professionals and educators, formed at the request of the secretary of education, Rod Paige, has been hearing testimony on ways to improve Title IX, which is credited with revolutionizing sports opportunities for female athletes.

There have been growing complaints that the law has led to reverse discrimination with the elimination of men's teams.

But those who think parity has arrived in women's sports and question the remaining need for Title IX have only to be aware of what happened at Los Angeles University High last January.

After years of neglect of the school's softball program and a failure by adults to take appropriate action, Stephanie Varlotta, a senior player, filed a Title IX complaint with the Los Angeles Unified School District's office of Educational Equity Compliance.

Armed with overwhelming evidence that the school was in violation of gender equity rules, Varlotta forced administrators to sign a compliance agreement to make major changes in the softball program.

A year later, University has fulfilled its commitment. An off-season softball fundamentals class, which is similar to a class baseball players have always had, will be offered beginning next month. The softball field, which once had a broken pitching rubber, no dugouts and was considered a heath hazard, has been transformed into one of the best in the Western League.

Enclosed dugouts with wood roofs and cement floors were erected. The outfield was re-sodded with hybrid Bermuda grass and is no longer available for anyone and everyone to tear up with endless use.

"The field is amazing, but to get that class is really going to help the team," Varlotta said. "Now it's giving them a chance against teams that play over the summer."

University still hasn't put up an electronic scoreboard at the softball field, like there is at the baseball field, but administrators are committed to raising funds to complete the project in a reasonable time.

Elois McGehee, University's first-year principal, has made it clear to her coaching staff that following gender equity rules is "something important to me."

"I do regret it had to come to a student filing a complaint for action to be taken," she said.

Another school close to rectifying a Title IX complaint is Granada Hills Kennedy, which opened in 1971 and has never had a softball field on campus. The school is scheduled to complete building a softball field by the spring of 2003.

Varlotta graduated last June and won't be able to benefit from the changes in University's softball program. She's attending Syracuse, but her legacy can be seen in the renewed enthusiasm and opportunities for University softball players.

"I'm not going to be happy until it's all done, until the scoreboard is up, until the coaching staff stays stable," Varlotta said. "I realize I started something, and I'm going to finish it even if it takes two years."

It took Varlotta's courage and indignation to speed up the process of change, but without Title IX, the softball team might be waiting years for fairness to prevail.

Title IX may require some tweaking, but it's still needed in a time when gender equity problems continue to exist.

*

Eric Sondheimer can be reached at eric.sondheimer@latimes.com.

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