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What's right for the kids



Published: Fri, January 4, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Title IX.

Mention this law and you get instant reaction.

Since its enactment in 1972, Title IX has sought to give women the same opportunity as men in federally-funded educational programs, including athletics.

Powerful and controversial, Title IX has had an effect across the country. Its impact was felt again -- this time in high school athletics, right here in Ohio.

Latest example: In the final days of 2001, a woman named Michelle Smith took advantage of the law and changed the routine of a 16-team basketball league in south-central Ohio.

No longer do the boys dominate the high school basketball scene on Friday nights in Circleville.

Claiming that "the girls were always second to the guys," as she told The (Circleville) Herald for a story -- Smith's effort led the Mid-State League to rotate boys and girls games at night on Friday, Saturday and Tuesday.

And Title IX was right in the middle.

Not only did Smith, whose daughter plays basketball in the school district, believe the girls were being treated unfairly, but she also thought the girls' Saturday participation "infringed on weekend activities and homework."

Even if Smith's argument seems a bit inconsistent (are we talking about gender equality or free time on Saturday?), we can't ignore the impact the decision might have throughout the state, even in the Mahoning Valley.

"With Title IX, they can do so much," said Mike Butch, Steel Valley Conference commissioner and City Series assignor. "It has an impact on everything. Once a lawsuit goes into effect somewhere else, it's like a snowball effect."

Still, some area officials don't seem overly concerned at this point about having to one day make the same change as Circleville.

If it would happen, "our league will take the decision under advisement, then adjust schedules as need be in the future, according to each school's desire," said Clem Zumpella, commissioner of the Metro Athletic Conference.

Trumbull Athletic Conference commissioner Mel Staats said, "If something's working, why attempt to destroy it or break it down? In our case, things seem to be working quite well."

Mixing it up: The City Series and East Suburban Conference are the only area leagues to play girls games consistently on Friday nights.

The City Series usually plays a girls-boys doubleheader that begins at 6 p.m., but that is not a result of Title IX's influence, Butch said, but instead for transportation conveniences.

However, the ESC, which will disband after the school year and become the Northeastern Athletic Conference, has been impacted by Title IX, Bristol principal Richard Thomas said.

"Because the league is so big, there is a lot of travel time. On school nights, the girls were constantly on the road," Thomas said. "One of the principals did bring up [a number of years ago] that Title IX does suggest everything being equal."

As a result, ESC boys and girls basketball teams have been involved in a Tuesday-Thursday and Wednesday-Friday weekly rotation.

Making the smartest decision: While the rotation system works for the ESC, it might not work elsewhere.

When it comes to adjusting an entire league's schedule, many factors are involved. Probably the most important is revenue, which is generated by fan base.

As Staats said, "If you have the sports, they have to be paid for."

That's why Title IX, no matter how powerful, shouldn't be the sole basis for deciding an entire high school league's scheduling method.

What's important is that the activity exists for the student-athlete by being properly funded, not because someone cries gender inequality.

Brian Richesson covers high school sports for The Vindicator. Write him at richesson@vindy.com.




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