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Title IX — Still Room for Improvement

Every young woman who has received an athletic scholarship for college, every woman who has fought for the rights of girls to play sports and every individual who champions the advancements in women’s rights celebrated the 30th birthday of Title IX on June 23.

Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 states that “no person in the U. S. shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, or denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving federal aid.”

While athletics have created the most controversy regarding Title IX, gains in education and academics are notable. Before Title IX, many schools saw no problem in refusing to admit women or having strict limits. According to research conducted by the University of Iowa, in 1994, women received 38 percent of all medical degrees conferred in this country as opposed to nine percent in 1972. Also, in 1994, women earned 43 percent of all law degrees, compared with seven percent in 1972. In that same year, 44 percent of al doctoral degrees conferred on U. S. citizens went to women as opposed to 25 percent in 1972.

Title IX gives schools the flexibility to choose sports based on student body interest, geographic influence, a given school’s budget constraints and gender ratio. It is not a matter of women being able to participate in wrestling or that exactly the same amount of money is spent per women and men’s basketball players. Instead, the focus is on the necessity for women to have equal opportunities as men on a whole, not on an individual basis.

THIS DISTINCTION is important to West Potomac High School’s Assistant Principal Sonja Watts. “Our approach to the implementation of Title IX must be reasoned,” she said. “If a girl wanted to participate in wrestling, for example, it would not be appropriate for her to do so on a co-ed team. Either the school would have to sponsor a girls’ wrestling team or the sport would not be available to women. The legislation has certainly leveled the playing field for women in athletics and in other aspects of education. It is our responsibility as administrators, though, to educate parents and young people about what the law does and does not mean.”

Watts grew up in Portsmouth, Va. “There were certainly some opportunities for girls to play sports but not as many as there are now,” she said. “Segregation was just ending and things were changing pretty rapidly for all of us. I did not want to participate in sports. My extracurricular outlet was the band. It did give me an opportunity to feel a part of athletic events, though, because we played at football games and other events and it felt like we were contributing to athletic programs.”

At Norfolk State, where Watts attended college, there were still limited opportunities for girls to play sports. “There are certainly more scholarship opportunities for these girls today,” she said.

FAIRFAX COUNTY has 24 public high schools. There are roughly 22,000 student athletes, 12,000 boys and 10,000 girls. Bruce Patrick is the coordinator of student activities and athletics for the school system.

“There are tremendous opportunities for girls that were never there before,” Patrick said. “This also means that it is harder to find qualified coaches. Not only do you have to find a boy’s soccer coach but a girl’s soccer coach and a JV coach for both and a freshman coach for both. Believe me, I’m not complaining. I think it’s great, but it is challenging.”

There are 15 different girls’ sports and three that girls can try out for. These are wrestling, football and baseball.

As to the disparity in fan support for girls and boys sports, Patrick sees that changing. “It’s not a revolution but more like an evolution,” he said. “I bet if you go to half of our high schools on any given night, you will see almost as many fans at girls basketball games as at the boys’ games. The disparity has historical roots because boys’ sports have gotten better coverage and have been more visible. That is changing.”

Patrick isn’t concerned about budget differences. He has a budget of $2.9 million a year. That pays for equipment and equipment reconditioning, officials, pool rentals, transportation, and post-season expenses, to name just a sampling. “I can tell you that that money is provided very evenly among girls and boys sports,” he said.

IN THE 1970-71 school year, 300,000 girls played a high school sport. That number was 2.6 million in the 1998-99 school year. This meant that in 1970, only one in every 27 girls played varsity sports.

Carmen Velasquez is an attorney who has watched the impact of Title IX. Her children are in elementary school in Fairfax County, in the Mt. Vernon area. “I am very pleased that the public school system offers so many athletic opportunities for both men and women,” she said. “Title IX has meant that, when my daughter goes to Mt. Vernon High School, she can play most of the same sports that my son can play. I certainly did not have these opportunities when I was growing up. Most of our sports opportunities came in physical education classes and sometimes on the playground. Believing that you have options helps in every aspect of life, not just in sports. Girls who play sports are less likely to be abused, less likely to become pregnant as teenagers and more likely to do well in school. The lessons that they learn on the playing field serves them well throughout adulthood.”

Cathy David is the principal at Samuel Tucker Elementary School. She grew up in Alexandria and now lives in the Mt. Vernon area of Fairfax County. Her children attended Hayfield High School. “When I was young, we had no high school sports that I can remember and only a few opportunities for girls to participate in youth sports through the Department of Recreation. There was basketball, softball and volleyball; that’s it. Title IX has had an impact but only as a piece of the movement toward widening opportunities for women overall.”

THIS LACK OF support points to the fact that inequities remain. National Collegiate Athletic Association research shows that for every $3 going into college athletic programs over the last five years, $2 is going into men’s sports and only $1 to women’s sports. Male athletes receive $179 million more in athletic scholarships each year than their female counterparts.

Collegiate institutions spend 24 percent of their athletic operating budgets, 16 percent of their recruiting budgets and 33 percent of their scholarship budgets on female athletes. Less than 35 percent of all high school athletes are women. Less than 34 percent of all college athletes are women. Less than one percent of all coaches of men’s teams and less than 46 percent of all coaches of women’s teams is female.

TC Williams High School Athletic Director A.K. Johnson agreed. “This year, we had more women out for crew than men,” he said. “As girls participate in sports at younger and younger ages, we see the impact academically as well as in athletics. In many instances, girls are more prepared to meet both the athletic and academic standards that we set for our athletes than are boys. That is not true across the board but it is worth noting.”

Patrick Murphy is the parent of a boy and a girl and has been a coach and a parent of children who participated in the Fort Hunt Youth Athletic Association. “There are certainly opportunities for girls,” he said. “There is Lacrosse, basketball and softball. Title IX has made a difference but I am sure that we could do more.”

Patrick agreed. “The Title IX advocacy groups began in the colleges and are now having an impact on high school sports,” he said. “We can’t sit around and wait for opportunities to come to us, however. We must be proactive. When you look at a fabulous baseball facility with lights and a dugout and a press box and then see girls playing softball in a pasture, you should do something about it. You know what’s equal; you know what’s fair; implement it.”