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Title IX leveled playing field for local athletes

By Zack Huffman

zhuffman@news-daily.com

A few weeks ago, basketball season officially ended in Henry County when the Henry County Ladyhawks lost in the GHSA Class-AA Final Four to Model. The day before, the girls of Jonesboro capped Clayton County's basketball season when they fell to Fayette County in the Class-AAAA Final Four.

In both counties it was the girls who lasted longer than their male counterparts in state competition. If there is one thing that sports in the Southern Crescent has proven it is that girls can be just as successful if not more so than boys when they are provided with the same opportunities to compete.

Despite this, girls have not always had the same opportunities as boys when it comes to high school sports.

On June 23, 1972, Title IX of the Education Amendments was enacted, which demands that activity that receives federal funding must provide equal opportunities regardless of sex.

While Title IX has been in affect for over 3 decades, it took a long time for those affects to manifest themselves in high school varsity sports.

"The law lay dormant for practically 30 years on the high school level," said Brannon. "It did not touch high school until there were some issues in the 1990's with softball and baseball fields. That seemed to catch on and start a little prairie fire."

In terms of sports, Title IX requires that for every male sport such as baseball, there is to be a female equivalent such as softball with comparable facilities and comparable funding. Sharing the same field is not an option for baseball and softball as they both require different dimensions, specifically the distance between home plate and the pitcher's mound.

Since Title IX's creation female participation in high school sports has grown from 1 in 27 girls in 1970 to 1 in 2.5 in 2005 according to the Women's Sports Foundation.

According to Clayton County Athletic Director Bob Brannon, while this does not mean that funding must be matched dollar for dollar, it does mean that funding be equitable. If the baseball teams is supported with enough money to get new uniforms, because they are in need, then the school must ensure the softball is properly uniformed whether they already have good uniforms or if they need new ones.

Brannon happens to be very familiar with the implementation of Title IX at the high school level.

After joining the county athletic department in 1998 one of the first major initiatives he took part in was Clayton County's drive to meet Title IX requirements.

"We established a community advisory board in 2000," said Brannon. "We started discussions on Title IX and how to approach it and how best to make sure we were in compliance."

According to Henry County High School athletic director Chuck Miller, the county had already been working towards providing equal sports opportunities for its female athletes.

"I think Title IX has been real good in this county," said Miller. "I don't really think it made us do anything that this county had been trying to do for the 28 years that I've been here."For the most part, Miller believes one of the best results to come from Title IX was an increased awareness of the many obstacles that girls contend with in seeking equal treatment.

In 2003, Clayton began a major construction effort to add softball fields to Jonesboro, Forest Park, Morrow, Riverdale and North Clayton. Lovejoy and Mundy's Mill already had fields and a softball infield was incorporated in Mt. Zion's baseball field with the outfields flipped for each sport.

According to Miller, before Title IX compliance became a pressing matter, Henry County was already actvely matching baseball fields with softball versions.

With most sports such as basketball, swimming and track and field, it easier to reach compliance with the sports programs existing with male and female components.

For Wrestling, although it is open to female, very few compete. In the last ten y ears, GHSA has approved volleyball as an acceptable alternative for girls.

That just leaves football.

"Football is the 'fly in the ointment' with Title IX because we don't have a comparable girls sport," said Brannon. "The participation numers for football is extremely high.

If you just look at numbers it gives you a skewed male-female participation ratio."

According to Brannon it would be extrememly difficult to match the number of participants in football solely based on the number of players it takes to field a team with backup players.

While competitive cheerleading is considered the female alternative to football, Miller does not feel that is acceptably regarded as such.

"The only girls sport that does not get treated right is competitive cheerleading," he said. "I think they are treated as step children. Those girls work just as hard as the football team."

According to Miller, competitive cheerleading has evolved to the point that unless competitors have extremely developed athletic skills, they will have trouble matching talent.

"Anybody who doesn't think competitive cheerleading is tough is ignorant," he said. "They spend more time in it than any other sport, it's just unbelievable."