Voorheesville seeks equity for girls’ sports

Enterprise file photo – Michael Koff
Striking out inequity in girls’ sports: Lauren Dlugolecki of the Voorheesville softball team follows through on a pitch. At a forum on equity in sports on Monday night, members of the softball team said that there is only one field for three softball teams to practice and play on.

VOORHEESVILLE – Students, parents, coaches, teachers, and administrators gathered at the performing arts center at Clayton A Bouton High School on Monday night to discuss ways to enhance athletic opportunities for female students at Voorheesville.

The forum comes after concerns were raised at previous school board meetings about fewer sports teams for girls. There are 13 offerings for boys and eight for girls.

As he ended the forum, Superintendent Brian Hunt said: “We do know we have an equity issue … The question is: How do we close that gap? How do we bridge that gap without taking away from something that we are already doing for our girls and our boys?”

Hunt said that the district has run afoul of Title IX.

Title IX, a federal civil rights law passed in 1972 to end discrimination in schools based on gender, 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.

By the numbers

He said that Voorheesville has a demonstrated inequity in terms of funding and in terms of the number of sports that are offered to girls.

According to the district, student participation in sports is high already. About 82 percent of girls play Voorheesville sports and about 87 percent of boys, Francis Rielly, the assistant superintendent for finance and operations, told The Enterprise in March.

There are 295 boys and 279 girls in grades seven through 12, according to the district’s most recent data.

Athletic Director Joseph Sapienza told the board in February that 197 girls participate in girls-only sports: cheerleading, volleyball, swimming, soccer, basketball, and softball. In total, about $91,000 is spent on these sports.

At the same time, 230 boys 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.

Hunt said that the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights uses a three-part test to determine compliance.

According to the department of education, an institution is in compliance with the three-part test if it meets any one of the following parts of the test:

–  The number of male and female athletes is substantially proportionate to their respective enrollments; or

– The institution has a history and continuing practice of expanding participation opportunities responsive to the developing interests and abilities of the underrepresented sex; or

– The institution is fully and effectively accommodating the interests and abilities of the underrepresented sex.

In a follow-up interview with The Enterprise, Hunt said that the district was close to compliance on the first test, enrollments, but said that he’d have to look at the data.

He did say that, yes, the district is in compliance with the second test, expanding participation opportunities.

This puts the district in compliance with Title IX.

Hunt said that he’s not satisfied with “just compliant.”

“I want to equalize opportunities and make it easier and better for our kids to participate, and that’s for our female athletes and our male athletes as well.

Seeking solutions

Rather than adding new sports, those who spoke at Monday’s forum said that allocating resources properly to existing teams would be more beneficial.

Suggestions were made to add girls’ lacrosse and to switch indoor track from a club to a competitive sport. Sapienza suggested slowly transitioning cheerleading to a competitive sport

A member of the girls’ softball team said that there is only one field for three softball teams to practice and play on. Members of the girls’ soccer team also said there were issues with the availability of fields.

One parent said that, in a two-hour basketball practice, her daughter spent one of those hours dribbling a ball in the cafeteria.

The coach of junior-varsity softball, Ronald Champion, said that his team had not received any new equipment in the three years that he has coached, and, this year when he asked for a new batting tee – which costs $25  – he said, he was told, “We don't have the money for it.”

Hunt addressed the field issue.

He said that there needs to be a second softball field, and that it has been discussed by the district’s facilities committee. The committee looked at trying to revive a softball field at the elementary school but, he said, that wouldn’t work. The committee is, however, looking at putting another softball field on the satellite fields, “and that is a serious discussion,” he said.

Amid the discussion of equity, one parent asked if there is an actual fiscal inequity on what is spent on coaches and equipment for teams or if it is a perception issue.

Hunt answered that coaches salaries are part of the teachers’ union contract and that, in the most recent negotiation, which was three years ago, there was an effort to even out the pay between the coaches of boys’ and girls’ sports. Prior to that negotiation, Hunt said, there had been salary inequities.

It was pointed out that some boys’ sports appear to be receiving a greater portion of funding, when what is happening is that those sports are the beneficiaries of outside funds.

But even then, Hunt said, the district attempts to make it right.

For example, donated dugouts for the baseball field destroyed during a windstorm were then rebuilt using the district’s insurance. Hunt said that that became an equity issue, and the district footed the bill to install new dugouts on the softball field.

The parent spoke again, and said that this was what she meant when she asked if there was an equity perception issue, “because people may see something on the baseball field, like the new field or dugouts, and not realize that a booster club paid to have it done.”

Parents and students also expressed dissatisfaction that there is a disproportionate number of sports offered to girls in the fall. One female athlete said that she is sitting at home during the spring and winter, while in the fall she is forced to choose between volleyball, soccer, or swimming – boys’ swimming is in the winter.

Sapienza said that the season in which a sport is played is determined by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association, the governing body of interscholastic sports in the state outside of New York City.

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