Athletics in city high schools is a losing proposition Athletics in city high schools is a losing propositionThe Board of Education, or really just a sub group of the board, the Education Committee, talked about athletics and opportunities for girls for 90 minutes at last night's meeting. But most of the talking was from a consultant who has been marked tardy with the report in the past on this blog. A litany of interactions occurred with the process including the use of some crude and shallow tools that netted passionate replies.
By Karamagi Rujumba, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Athletes in the Pittsburgh Public Schools generally have low self esteem because of a lack of high-quality programs and resources.
I do not think that the following key statement was ever talked about at the table, "Athletes in the Pittsburgh Public Schools generally have low self esteem because of a lack of high-quality programs and resources." Much of what was in the report was not said. Rather, the spoken direct points to the PPS was fairy tale and dream-world pats-on-the-back about being a model for the rest of the nation. Say what?
The unspoken theme from the consultant was "Rehire me! I'll still give you all a gold star for effort in hiring me."
My global point: It does not take a women rocket scientist to reveal "pervasive and severe" inequities in the PPS athletic opportunities. And, these are so pervasive that boys and girls suffer greatly. To bring the girls games to an equal position of that enjoyed by the PPS boys is a perfect formula for getting nobody to win much of anything of value. As a system, the boys opportunities are very, very poor and the girls opportunities are very, very, very poor. Getting them all to just double poor would be a world-class fumble. The gender disparities among athletes is tiny when contrasted to the generally low emphasis on student sports.
"The interscholastic athletic program overall appears to suffer from poor self-esteem," said Ms. Pennepacker of High School Title IX Consulting Services.
I am not paid $10,000 for my comments. And, I'm not two years late in making them, just prompt, present and polite.
The consultant, who signed a $10,000 contract with the district said that her survey of student athletes and coaching staff found that they have a "general notion of apathy, hopelessness and anger regarding the quality and perceived lack of importance that the school district in general places on interscholastic athletics."
Mark Rauterkus, a swimming and water polo coach at Schenley High School said he was not surprised by the report's conclusions.
"We have known this all along. I haven't seen any types of reforms in student athletics in a long time," Mr. Rauterkus said.
Dr. John Thompson, prior PPS Superintendent, didn't do much with the sports and athletics efforts in the PPS either.
Even Mr. Lopez talked about how sports in the city have "De-Volved." That is from a Tenn Vol, too. (pun alert) We've been standing still or getting worse in many regards -- so he said at the all coaches meeting.
School administrators "have been focused on other things for a while now, and yet we know that student athletes can be even better students when they are given the support they need," he added.
Mr. Rauterkus said the school district "now knows that this is something they need to pay more attention to and the fact that we are talking about it shows they understand that we have a problem."
The 140-page audit report, which assessed all aspects of student athletics -- including practice and training facilities, the number of experienced coaches and staff and availability of sports uniforms -- at the nine city high schools found that, compared to the national average, far fewer city high school girls participate in sports.
Despite the district's shortcomings, Ms. Pennepacker commended it for opening itself to public scrutiny on the question of gender disparity in sports.She did deliver some wild assertions that put the district in an inflated place.
Heather Arnet, executive director of the Women and Girls Foundation of Southwest Pennsylvania, and a former school board member who pushed for the audit, agreed.
"This took courage on the part of the school board because they knew it would shine a light on the district," she said. "But you can't fix the problem until you quantify it and now we know the disparity."
Another key finding of the report was that city schools have not taken steps in recent years to significantly expand sports programs for female students.
And because female athletes in the district remain significantly under-represented in interscholastic athletics, Ms. Pennepacker recommended that the district develop a strategic action plan to expand female athletics and create a timetable for implementation.
In 2009, as a volunteer coach, I began a new sports team -- well -- three really. We started a non-varsity water polo program for girls, boys and even a 'co-ed' team. I've expanded female athletic opportunities in PPS with fall water polo. I want that to continue in the spring and the summer.
Water polo, like swimming, is for both boys and girls. And, we've got slightly more girls on the teams than boys, but for the most part it is sorta even. The boys do show up for practices a little more than the girls did this past year. But, we've had more scholastic swim practices at Schenley this year than any other program in the city -- perhaps twice as many.
Part of that plan, she added, should explore the idea of creating some oversight over high school sports booster clubs, which can create a disparity because of their fundraising for certain sports.This booster mention makes me chuckle. I often talk about boosters as a way to put forth improvements, not only in sports but in other areas of the PPS. I'm part of a 'booster group' for male engagement in PPS. We help with Take a Father to School Day. I suggested that the PPS Afterschool Czar (coordinator) form a booster group. Often I talk with others at PPS about booster groups and hear, "What's that?"
Where are there strong booster groups in PPS now?
Schenley Volleyball has a booster group. We'll have a Schenley swim banquet this weekend organized by parents, a swim booster function. Carrick's hockey team had a booster group in the past. I had meetings with them when we still had a closed indoor ice rink in the South Side. There are tons of booster activities associated with the South Side Sabers, a youth football team. But that isn't PPS.
Marching Band Boosters are often the most organized examples in the WPIAL.
PPS does not need Booster Oversight as there is little to inspect. We do need Booster Incubators. However, boosters are a big deal in most sports settings elsewhere.
Among her recommendations, Ms. Pennepacker said the district ought to create a Title IX compliance officer position, specifically to oversee what would be the implementation of the school system's Title IX action plan.I'm going to suggest that the Schenley Principal, Ms. Sophia Facaros, be pegged as the one to be the PPS Title IX compliance officer.
Derrick Lopez, assistant superintendent for secondary schools said the district is already taking steps to implement such a plan.The girls swimmers at Perry High School were talked about by the consultant. Perry added the team the year before while the consultant was doing some the early work. This year, Schenley swam Perry in our first city league meet and again in the second meet. The girls squad at Perry had less than 4 swimmers in the first meet. Schenley had 25 or so. In the second meet, at Perry, none of the girls showed up. Oh well. Frankly, I am a 'fix it kinda guy.' The wiki I began is called "Fix PA." It isn't titled, "QUANTIFY THE SINS." Of course fixes can be made before losses are racked up and quantified. A coach does not conduct a season or TWO, and watch how the ball moves while keeping stats. Then, after the seasons have ended, go to the players and say that the stats reveal basement-level performances. It must be some wacky lawyer/bureaucrat speak to feel accomplished so as to only conclude that there is sufficient reason to believe that improvements will be taught to those on the teams in the future. As for courage, think again. No doubt, the district has courage like a bull. However, getting that bull to take a jog in the realm of sports and athletics is still unseen. So, I'll continue to wave colorful flags and try to garner attention. But, I'm not really wishing for the courage so as to make a rush of a bull in a china shop. Courage and confidence comes with doing the right things, day to day, moment to moment. My long-time comment was said in a context of multiple superintendents. Mr. Roosevelt told me in past years that sports issues were on the "back burner." The PPS Administrators had other challenges that were more pressing. Then around the first of the year (January 2010), he emailed me to say that sports is moving to the front burner, finally.