Uneven playing fields

Feds find issues in Chatham

The Ball-Chatham Community Unit School District has agreed to make changes to middle and high school sports after federal civil rights investigators found disparities between athletic programs for boys and girls.

The district, no later than the 2022-23 academic year, will provide equal athletic opportunities for boys and girls in the district's middle and high schools, under the agreement reached last month with the U.S. Department of Education, which identified several concerns in a Jan. 23 letter to a complainant.

Concerns included fewer opportunities for girls to compete in sports than boys enjoy. At Glenwood High School, investigators found, 63 percent of boys participated in athletics while 37 percent of girls participated; at Glenwood Middle School, 41 percent of girls played sports while 59 percent of boys participated, even though more girls than boys are enrolled. Football, where every student who wants to play gets a spot, appears to be part of the issue, according to district officials. While no football players are cut at Glenwood High School, which had 94 players last year, cuts are made in girls softball, which had 28 players, according to federal investigators.

Investigators also found scheduling issues. Girls basketball games are played on Thursday nights and Saturday mornings while boys play on Tuesday and Friday nights, with Fridays being considered prime time by athletes. Most teams practice immediately after school, but the girls basketball team practices at 6 p.m. on Fridays due to a coach's work schedule. The boys varsity basketball team never plays in the smaller of two gyms at Glenwood High School, investigators reported, but girls basketball teams at all levels play some games there, as does the freshman boys basketball team. Athletes told investigators that only male athletes are allowed to participate in "early bird PE," which starts 30 minutes before classes begin. The cafeteria is then opened to the athletes for a study hall.

Athletes told investigators that the district gives more publicity to high school football and boys basketball than other sports. Bands performed at all home varsity football and boys basketball games last year, investigators found, but played at just one home varsity girls basketball game. Cheerleaders performed at all high school boys basketball and football games last year, with the exception of holiday tournaments, but performed at one home varsity girls basketball game.

Based on their findings, investigators with Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights wrote that they had "concerns that the district does not effectively accommodate the interests and abilities of the members of both sexes in its interscholastic athletics programs."

Without admitting to any shortcomings or wrongdoing, the district entered into an agreement with the Department of Education to resolve concerns. Superintendent Douglas Wood disputed the contention that girls can't participate in early bird PE, but he couldn't say why girls aren't taking part. Wood said he welcomed the federal investigation, which he said he believes was prompted by complaints from parents of girl basketball players at Glenwood High School.

"I think it's a good process to go through, kind of like an audit to look at what you do," Wood said. "Sometimes, from an outside perspective, you do go 'OK, what can we do?' For example, are no-cut policies something we need to look at and take into consideration?"

Wood said the district already has instituted some changes, including arranging for bands to play at girls games. But challenges remain. To make the number of opportunities equal for boys and girls, he said, the district could either reduce the number of athletic spots for boys or increase the number for girls or some combination of the two.

"We really are very open and considerate of those who want to play different sports and different activities," Wood said.

The district could add water polo, field hockey or gymnastics for girls, but that would be difficult because there are no nearby schools that have teams in those sports, said district spokeswoman Betsy Schroeder.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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