Voorheesville looks to level the playing field for female athletes

female athletes

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff
Raising the bar for female athletes: 41 girls and 47 boys compete together on Voorheesville’s track and field team. In an effort to add more sports for girls, the district is exploring adding indoor track during the winter. Here, Leureah Cummings competes for Voorheesville in the pole vault.

VOORHEESVILLE — A small band of women raised concerns about fewer sports teams for girls at February’s school board meeting. So this month, the board was presented with information on the number of teams, participants, and costs.

“There are 13 offerings for boys and eight for girls, which gets into a situation with Title IX,” said Francis Rielly, the assistant superintendent for finance and operations.

Title IX, a federal civil rights law passed in 1972 to end discrimination in schools based on sex, prohibits sex discrimination in interscholastic, intercollegiate, club, or intramural athletics offered by a recipient institution, including with respect to student interests and abilities; athletic benefits and opportunities; and athletic financial assistance. (See related editorial.)

Before Title IX was passed, just 7 percent of all high-school athletes were girls; by 2010-11, forty-one percent of all high-school athletes were girls, according to a survey by the National Federation of State High School Associations.

There are 204 males and 192 females in grades nine through 12 in Voorheesville, according to the most recent data — the 2016-17 school year — from the New York State Education Department.

According to a presentation by Joseph Sapienza, Voorheesville’s athletic director, during the February meeting, 197 girls participate in girls-only sports: cheerleading, volleyball, swimming, soccer, basketball, and softball. In total, about $91,000 is spent on these sports.

For boys, 230 participate in boys-only sports: golf, football, soccer, basketball, swimming, volleyball, wrestling, baseball, lacrosse, and tennis. About $130,000 is spent on these sports.

Girls and boys both compete in three sports: cross country, which has 16 girls and 20 boys; bowling, six boys and two girls; and track, where 41 girls and 47 boys participate. On all 118 athletes, the district spends $39,545.

In a follow-up interview, Rielly said he didn’t think the district would have an issue with the federal government, because, if there were a problem, the government would want to see some kind of plan from the district — which it is working on — or have the district be able show, through participation rates, that there is not a problem, and, based on that, it doesn’t seem Voorheesville would have a problem.

About 82 percent of girls participate in Voorheesville sports and about 87 percent are boys, Rielly said. But he said that the district is making strides to close that gap.

Voorheesville is a small school and there are only so many students who can participate in a sport, he said.

Rielly also said that, after he offered during the board meeting to meet with any student or parent to discuss options and solutions, he hasn’t heard from one.

At the meeting, Rielly and Sapienza offered suggestions of sports for girls that may close the gap.

Rielly first proposed girls’ tennis, although, he said, in the past few years there hasn’t been enough interest to field a team; seven girls are needed to fill a roster for scholastic tennis, he said.

The thinking was to keep tennis as an option for girls, developing it at the club level and scrimmaging with other schools during practice, to perhaps generate more interest. Last year, only one girl signed up for tennis.

Sapienza said that girls’ bowling is another option. There is already boys’ bowling, so it would be a cost-effective addition because transportation and coaching is already in place.

Another option is indoor track during the winter.

More Voorheesville students participate in spring track than any other sport, Sapienza said.

“To help out with the Title IX situation, they could offer indoor track to females for the first year, just girls, to build the program with the idea that they would make it a co-ed sport as they phase out of wrestling,” he said.

Currently, three Voorheesville boys wrestle on a team combined with Berne-Knox-Westerlo.

The school does not offer a competitive cheer program, but it could. Adding a modified girls’ basketball team and making cheerleading a competitive sport was also discussed.

Board member Diana Straut asked Sapienza if there were a way to gauge girls’ interest and get their opinions about what sports should be offered.

Sapienza said that he would be meeting with a vendor who offers online registration for sports, so an inquiry would go out to all girls, asking what sports they want to participate in the following year, and, based on the response, the district could offer those sports.

One attendee said that Title IX is not anything new; she wondered why people were suddenly shocked that there is such a disparity in Voorheesville’s sport offerings, and asked why that disparity continues.

Hunt said new sports are often proposed, by the community, “and the history of it, the last couple of it [proposed sports] anyway, has been boys’ sports. So that is part of it; we kind of slipped into this,” he said.



BKW and Guilderland

In the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School District, there are eight boys’ teams, seven girls’ teams, and one team for both boys and girls, according to Athletic Director Tom Galvin.

Three of the boys’ teams — football, wrestling, and golf — have had girls compete on them, and one of the girls’ teams — cheerleading — has had boys compete on it. Only one team without a gendered counterpart has not had any of the opposite gender compete in it — girls’ volleyball — he said.

"We’re pretty even,” said Galvin. “We have a girl that plays football; we’ve had girls that wrestle in the past.”

According to Guilderland’s athletic director, Regan Johnson, no reporting is required for Title IX in order for the school district to receive federal funds. Johnson, however, prepares an annual report on the numbers of students participating in school sports. “I use it as part of my budget presentation,” he said. “I break it down by class and school team.”

Guilderland has 15 girls’ teams and 16 boys’ teams as well as a unified basketball team on which special-needs students and regular-education students, both boys and girls, play together.

Guilderland girls’ high school teams are: cross-country, field hockey, soccer, swimming, tennis, volleyball, and football cheerleading in the fall; basketball, indoor track, cross-country skiing, gymnastics, and competitive cheerleading in the winter; and softball, lacrosse, and track and field in the spring.

Guilderland boys’ high school teams are: cross-country, football, golf, soccer, and volleyball in the fall; basketball, bowling, indoor track, ice hockey, wrestling, cross-country skiing, and swimming in the winter; and baseball, tennis, lacrosse, and track and field in the spring.

Seventh-and eighth-graders at Guilderland have a total of 16 teams to choose from — eight for boys and eight for girls.

Participation grows through ninth grade and then decreases, according to these figures for last year from Johnson: 144 seventh-graders participated, 173 eighth-graders, 215 ninth-graders, 212 sophomores, 193 juniors, and 177 seniors.

Girls have played on the boys’ golf and bowling teams and two girls played on the boys’ ice-hockey team this year, Johnson said; boys have been part of the girls’ competitive cheerleading team.

In 2016-7, Johnson reported, Guilderland has 500 female athletes and 630 male athletes. “We had 136 male football players and, with no female companion sport, this will cause a discrepancy in the numbers,” he wrote in an email.

“There are no comparative sports for girls for football and wrestling. Those are the two that get school out of whack,” said Johnson. “Wrestling for girls is getting popular in the South, although it may not get to New York in my lifetime.”

He concluded, “I have a daughter and am committed to girls’ sports here.”

— H. Rose Schneider contributed information on BKW and Melissa Hale-Spencer contributed information on Guilderland.

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