Athletic Management, 12.6, Oct/Nov 2000, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/am/am1206/bbhs.htm
At the high school level, a big trend in Title IX complaints involves softball teams vying for equal treatment. In the past two years, school districts in Michigan, Texas, Alabama, Connecticut, Oklahoma, and Washington, among others, have been asked to equalize softball with baseball, with many of the cases focusing on facilities.
Why softball? Why now? One possible explanation for this spate of softball cases has to do with the growing popularity of this sport at the high school level, as it is now the fourth most popular sport for girls. According to NFHS figures, in 1999, there were 12,679 high schools that sponsored the sport, an increase of 353 from the year before, and over 340,000 girls participating.
But those who are active in the Title IX fray say that there is more to it than numbers. Much of the issue stems from visibility: It is difficult to hide the differences between a baseball stadium and a softball field.
“Softball fields and baseball fields are very visible things,” says Neena Chaudhry, Counsel with the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC). “It’s very easy to see the contrast. Often, the softball fields aren’t maintained as well, they don’t have lights, bleachers; all of that stuff.”
One case that is in litigation at present involves the Boone County School District in Kentucky. Kim Egan, a parent in the Boone County, Ky., school system, became aware of huge inequities between the treatment of boys’ and girls’ sports when she analyzed the differences between her daughter’s softball program and her son’s baseball program at their high school.
“I always had to go to Chrissi’s school at 2:30 to pick her and other players up and transport them to their practice field,” Egan says. “Baseball players just stayed at school since their fields were on campus. The baseball team had an indoor batting cage. Softball didn’t have a batting cage at all. Baseball had nice dugouts. Softball players just sat in the cold drizzle getting soaked.
“Baseball had school manpower and equipment to maintain their field,” Egan continues. “Softball parents brought their own mowers and the coach used her own vehicle to drag the field. Baseball had large sets of bleachers. One softball parent got a set of used aluminum bleachers donated. Baseball had an electronic scoreboard. Softball had a scorekeeper you could ask the score. Baseball had faculty and students stay after school to watch them play. Half of the school didn’t even know the high school had a softball team and the other half had no idea where the field was located. Baseball had direct access to locker rooms. Softball was two miles away.”
Egan says that attempts to resolve the inequities were met with resistance by school officials, so she, her husband, and two other sets of Boone County parents took the school district to court. On September 11, 2000, U.S. District Court Judge William O. Bertelsman ruled that the lawsuit deserved class-action certification, meaning that the suit has now been expanded to include “all present and future female students enrolled at Boone County Schools who participate, seek to participate, or are deterred from participating in interscholastic and other school-sponsored athletics at Boone County Schools,” according to the ruling.
Another topic that these recent cases have evoked involves booster club funding. While many administrators have assumed that booster club moneys are outside the school district’s responsibility, the courts have ruled differently. Judges have said that, even if a baseball team has new bleachers because the baseball booster club paid for them, the softball team is also entitled to new bleachers.
“The law is that schools have an obligation to treat their students fairly—men and women, boys and girls,” says Chaudhry. “If your program gets money from booster clubs, it’s still the school’s obligation to use that money equally for boys and girls. If that booster club benefit is going to make them treat boys better than the girls, the administration is responsible for making up the difference in benefits on its own. It must find some way to equalize funding for the girls, or ask the booster club if they could support both boys and girls.
The thrust of the argument is that Title IX requires the school district to provide equal benefits to the girls, regardless of the source of the income,” says Sam Schiller, founder of Schiller Law Firm in Haskell, Okla., who has filed a number of high school Title IX suits. “It absolutely doesn’t matter where the money comes from. That’s kind of a difficult sell for the community, but it is the law.”
What have been the outcomes of these cases? “The cases that we have filed at the high school level have all had a significant impact on the softball programs,” says Schiller. “In particular, we have built a number of softball fields and ensured that softball players receive equipment, uniforms, supplies, coaching, locker rooms and other treatment equivalent to that afforded to the boys, particularly as compared to baseball. In addition, in some of the cases, schools have instituted programs at the junior high level, or added different levels of teams at the high school level, to afford more opportunities for girls to participate.”
To help determine if Title IX is being implemented in your athletic programs, consider using the checklists published on these two Web sites:
National Women’s Law Center, www.nwlc.org.
Women’s Sports Foundation, www.womenssportsfoundation.org.
Additional articles on interpreting Title IX and achieving equity can be accessed at our Web site, www.athleticsearch.com, by entering “Title IX” or “equity” into the search window.