High Schools Face Scrutiny, Lawsuits over Gender Equality in Sports Teams

By McRorie, Jessica | Curriculum Review, November 2001 | Go to article overview

High Schools Face Scrutiny, Lawsuits over Gender Equality in Sports Teams


McRorie, Jessica, Curriculum Review


Supreme Court ruling likely to help case

Now Roberts-Eveland's case, scheduled to be heard in federal court in Kalamazoo, is likely to be bolstered by a February 20 U.S. Supreme Court decision that state athletic associations were "state actors" having a public character and, therefore, subject to the same constitutional requirements as other public entities, such as public schools.

The court's opinion did not directly address Title IX, the name of the 1972 federal law that requires equitable treatment, facilities and access for girls and boys in educational institutions that receive federal funds.

However, lawyers are studying the Title IX implications of that decision and, while the impact of a major ruling is almost never certain, the decision bodes well for the Roberts-Eveland suit in that she is pressing her case against the Michigan High School Athletic Association and her complaint alleges that the association regularly violates Title IX.

While this case stands out because it comes so quickly on the heels of the high court's decision, Donna Lopiano, the executive director of the Women's Sports Foundation, said she has been seeing "much more action" in terms of Title IX disputes on the high school level in the form of both lawsuits and legislative action.

Lopiano, a potential expert witness in the Michigan case, said state athletic associations could play a major role in ensuring gender equity. "These changes have taken the burden off of parents, and retribution off their daughters," Lopiano added. Many parents often back down from lawsuits because of the fear of retaliation against their children or ridicule from coaches and even fellow teammates.

High schools and athletic associations usually escape Title IX scrutiny

While colleges receiving federal funds receive considerable Title IX scrutiny, high schools have been largely overlooked. Nationwide, some state athletic associations have been working toward Title IX compliance, while others have made little or no effort to comply.

These are usually nonprofit associations that regulate interscholastic sports among public and private high schools in a state, drawing up rules, eligibility requirements and tournament schedules. State boards of education usually recognize associations as governing bodies and public school teachers and officials are policy-making members of the association.

In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a case that on the surface had nothing to do with women and gender equity. In 1977, the private co-educational Brentwood Academy sued the Tennessee School Secondary Athletic Association, alleging that the association's recruiting rules violated constitutional protections of free speech and assembly and equal protection of the laws. The athletic association countered that it was a private organization and as such should not be held to constitutional requirements of fairness. The Supreme Court disagreed, calling it a "state actor" and ruled against the high school athletic association.

Mother watched two daughters miss college athletic scholarships

Roberts-Eveland filed her suit in 1998 after her first daughter, Mya, now 24, missed her chance to compete for a college volleyball scholarship. Roberts-Eveland watched the same thing happen to her second daughter, Kele, then 18, a two-time, all-state volleyball player with a stellar grade point average. She had been confident that she would receive an athletic scholarship to a Big Ten college of her choice. But by the end of her senior year, in 2000, she had come away empty-handed.

Roberts-Eveland says she knows why: Kele Eveland's high school volleyball team played in the nontraditional winter season, unlike most other states. That put her at a disadvantage because college recruiters scout promising high school athletes who are playing in the fall. For this reason--to increase girls' chances of college scholarships--Montana, South Dakota and North Dakota athletic associations will be switching their seasons for girls' volleyball from winter to fall for the 2002-2003 season. …

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High Schools Face Scrutiny, Lawsuits over Gender Equality in Sports Teams
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