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Fair Play Fumble: Wilcox High School Fails Women Athletes

The objective of Title IX of the 1972 federal Education Amendments law is advancing gender equity in athletic sports. For Wilcox High School’s current athletic landscape, it’s as if this law was never passed. As the saying goes, “laws are only as good as their enforcement.” It’s up to each and every one of the Wilcox community to exercise our good citizenship and help fulfill the fair play promise.

Title IX protects against sex discrimination in athletics as well as many other aspects of education, including sexual harassment, assault, health services and financial assistance.

This important federal education policy has been a major influence in increasing athletic opportunities for girls and women in informal recreational sports as well as in competitive athletic programs. Since Title IX passed the ratio of Wilcox’s female students who participate in sports to those who do not participate has gone from 1:27, to 1:3.

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Why is it important to have equity in sports? According to Legal Aid Society’s Fair Play for Girls in Sports project (las-elc.org) young women who play sports have higher grades, are 20 percent less likely to get breast cancer, experience lower rates of depression and earn seven percent higher annual wages than their non-athlete peers. African-American female athletes are 15 percent more likely to graduate from college. Latina female athletes are more likely to graduate from high school and attend college.

Even though Title IX has made some progress, there are continued challenges.

The Women’s Sports Foundation reports that women make up 54 percent of college students but they receive only 43 percent of the athletic participation opportunities. Female athletes at Division I-A schools receive, roughly: 28 percent of the total money spent on athletics, 31 percent of the recruiting dollars, and 42 percent of the athletic scholarship dollars according to the National Women’s Law Center’s Title IX information site (www.titleix.info).

Wilcox’s statistics are in line with the national average, according to California Interscholastic Federation participation census (www.cif state.org). Wilcox has an equal number of male and female students enrolled. In 2015, there were 600 male athletes but only 410 female athletes from the total 1,952 enrolled. This represents a 10 percent athletic participation gap for girls. Kelly Wallace of CNN stated in a June 26, 2015 report, “New report highlights gender equity gap in high school sports,” that a gap of 10 percentage points or higher is large and probably not in compliance with Title IX’s rules.

The main cause of this large gender equity gap is the single-sex football team of 100+ participants. Wilcox offers twelve sports to girls. The athletic department also offers co-ed sports: wrestling, cross-country, and track and field, trying to spark interest among young women. However, this isn’t enough to offset the imbalance created by the football team.

In Biediger v. Quinnipiac University (2010), a landmark Title IX case, a federal court held that cheerleading and competitive cheer are not sports. The court ruled that, to be a sport, a cheerleading program must have a defined season, governing organization, coaches, scheduled practices, and competition as its primary goal. Competitive cheer meets the above criteria except for having a “governing organization.” Hence, Wilcox can no longer use cheerleading participations to create a faux balance.

According to the gender equity advocate the Myra Sadker Foundation (sadker.org), schools can lose federal funding for violating the law. Title IX violation complaints can be filed with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) by community members, coaches, students, and faculty. The OCR will investigate and recommend remedies on a case-by-case basis. Sadly, Title IX compliance has been mostly driven by lawsuits and threats of lawsuits. In the cases brought to court, schools have had to pay substantial damages and attorney fees.

Many of us are not informed about Title IX and our rights. With power endowed by Title IX rules, we must demand equitable opportunities to participate in the sports we’re interested in – for example, lacrosse and field hockey as well as cheer. Wilcox High School administration cannot continue to “hear no evil and see no evil” in this matter. It’s time for us, female students of Wilcox, to join together and insist that schools do the right thing.

Korin Wheaton is a freshman at Wilcox High School.

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