Audit finds disparities in city athletics…Where are the girls?

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The Pittsburgh Public School District is now working to address a decline in female participation in athletics after a presentation earlier this month by a consultant who conducted an audit of the district’s compliance with Title IX, a law that requires equal opportunities for both males and females in education programs or activities that are federally funded, i.e. high school athletic programs. The audit found that there is a significant difference in the number of female athletes compared to male athletes.

Dashawna
DASHAWNA CAREY, a senior at Perry High School, was the top female basketball player in the city this year.

“We are always looking to improve,” said Michael Gavlik, director of Interscholastic Athletics for the Pittsburgh Public School District. “The school district requested the audit to see where it stood and what improvements needed to be made.” Reluctant to speak, Gavlik added that each school is different and their needs vary, but what remains important is making sure their facilities are maintained and that students are equipped with what they need.

While Pittsburgh Public School District board member Sharene Shealey declined to comment for the article, board member Mark Brentley said the district’s programs are missing something. “The district continues to (cut back) in all areas, unfortunately in some areas that do not need it. Cutting back in music and athletic programs for students puts them at a disadvantage.”

While the audit found there was a significant difference in the participation of female students in athletics than that of males, some feel it is not necessarily what the district is doing to promote their sports, but a lack of interest on the part of female students.

“Yes, there has been a decrease in the participation of females, but I do not believe it is because (of the district) but because they (female students) are just not as interested in it as they used to be,” said Daryl Moore, athletic director for Westinghouse High School. “I cannot speak for other schools, but in this school when it comes to female athletic participation, we offer every sport and opportunity for females to play, but do not see the interest.”

Moore said teachers and coaches in his school are constantly looking for students with an interest in a sports and try to motivate them to get them involved. He said when it comes to participation, other factors besides interest are if a team is winning and peer acceptance. If a team is winning, it is easier to find participants. For instance, their basketball teams always have an interest because it has a tradition of winning, but when it comes to the softball team, there is less participation and the ladies play because they like it.

Ken Saybel, athletic director at Schenley High School, said the female squads in his school are pretty full, but he has noticed a lack of participation from females. He admits the district needs to do better, but said one good thing that came from the audit was that the district saw where they needed to improve and actually did it.

One of the ways the district plans to work on the issues of its athletic departments, is through a task force that will focus on and address the issue of athletics overall and Title IX. One of the recommendations from the consultant was to hire a Title IX Compliance Officer.

“We have formed a new committee and we just had our first meeting,” said Saybel. “We need to get ideas to improve athletics, but need to also get more participation (on all levels) but especially from female students. We lose them along the way.”

While the new task force is still in the early stages of conception, Brentley said there is no need for it because there is a District Aide Athletic Committee, of which he is a member, in place. The committee was formed to set the tone for athletics in the district. Brentley said instead of putting together a new committee, the district should work with the one in place.

Pittsburgh Public School board member Dara Ware Allen said both are needed. “While the task force and the committee are complimentary, they are not the same. The task force is for a defined period of time to focus on the issue.”

Other recommendations were for the district to put together a strategic plan and conduct a yearly self-audit. The consultant who conducted the audit was unable to be reached by Courier deadline.

Allen said she thinks that once the district addresses the number of policy restrictions on the hiring of coaches, things will get better. For instance, if they hire someone from outside who has the expertise and interest, they may get more participation.

She added that she was pleased with the student interest that went into the audit. Several students gave their insight by answering a 30-page questionnaire.

While it is disheartening that there is a disparity when it comes to the number of female and male students who participate in athletics, Allen said it is admirable that the district is working to tackle the issue and committed to working on it.

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