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Girls and high school sports: complaints tag laggard schools

Twelve school districts, ranging from New York to Houston, are cited in civil rights complaints filed Wednesday. They show gaps in the level of female participation in athletics compared with girls' level of enrollment, says the National Women's Law Center.

By Staff writer / November 10, 2010

Wayzata High School volleyball team brings it in for a huddle during practice, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Twelve school districts – ranging from New York City to Houston – all show gaps in the level of female participation in athletics compared with girls' level of enrollment.

ZUMA Press/Newscom

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Concerned about girls getting the short end of the stick in high school athletics? Now there’s a hot line to report inequities and seek advice about how to advocate for fair treatment.

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The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) launched the hot line – 1-855-HERGAME (437-4263) – and filed civil rights complaints against 12 school districts Wednesday as part of a broader campaign to highlight Title IX, a 1972 federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in public education.

There’s a “widespread pattern of schools failing to give girls as many chances as boys to play sports,” says Marcia Greenberger, co-president of NWLC, a Washington nonprofit advocacy group. The importance of participation extends beyond the athletic field, she says, because sports contribute to health, self-esteem, and school engagement.

Battles over college sports opportunities have received more attention in recent years, with a judge recently ruling, for instance, that Quinnipiac University in Connecticut could not count its cheerleading squad toward Title IX compliance because cheerleading lacks sufficient competitive opportunity.

But as progress has been made in college sports equity, “more attention is being directed to the high school level where for years not much has happened,” writes Shawn Ladda, president of National Association of Girls and Women in Sport, in Reston, Va., in an e-mail to the Monitor. Schools are also coming under more scrutiny now, she notes, because the Obama administration is more committed to enforcing Title IX than was the Bush administration.

The 12 school districts – ranging from New York City to Houston – all show gaps in the level of female participation in athletics compared with girls' level of enrollment. The gaps in most cases grew worse between 2004 and 2006, the most recent year that schools had to report such data, according to the NWLC. (See chart).

In Chicago, for instance, the average gap was 33 percentage points – representing a “lost opportunity,” the center says, for more than 7,000 girls in 2006. At Marshall Metropolitan High School in Chicago, for instance, girls are 47.5 percent of the students but only 6.7 percent of the athletes. And some Chicago high schools report zero female athletes.

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