By Baybars Charkas
Manheim Township School District is providing unequal opportunities for girls in athletics, according to a review presented to the school board in August 2019.
Data from the 2018-2019 school year indicate that, though girls make up 46 percent of the high school’s population, they comprise only 38 percent of all student athletes in the 2018-2019 school year. In order to correct this disparity, MTSD would need to add 81 new athletic positions on girls’ teams to bring the district into compliance with federal law.
The district does not have a “history and continuing practice” of adding opportunities for female athletes, according to the review. At the time of the review’s publishing, the last program added for girls was bowling in 2005, and seventh grade girls’ basketball was discontinued in 2013. Among other concerns raised by the review are disparities in the salaries of coaches, publicity for teams’ games and achievements, athletic training, and medical services.
The review raised concerns about the quality and availability of girls’ locker rooms and facilities. For instance, the size of the locker rooms used by girls’ soccer and lacrosse teams to be inadequate for the number of players, and that many girls’ teams rely on changing in the school’s bathrooms, according to the review.
The school board commissioned High School Title IX Compliance Services to study the district’s compliance with Title IX of the United States Code, a law that requires equal or equivalent opportunities for boys and girls in interscholastic athletic programs. Title IX mandates that athletic programs accommodate the interests and abilities of both sexes, as well as distribute benefits and opportunities equally to both sexes’ teams.
A committee — whose members include the district’s Human Resources Director Katherine Ward, outgoing Athletic Director Roger Czerwinski and High School Principal David Rilatt — is discussing the elements of Pennepacker’s review and developing a strategic plan. The district is in the early stages of forming a solution.
The review, a first in Manheim Township’s history, evaluated all aspects of the district’s athletic programs and put forth recommendations for improvement. High School Title IX Compliance Services drew its findings from interviews with coaches, athletes, questionnaires, surveys sent to 8th and 11th graders, reviews of school policy, and visits to athletic facilities. The review cost the district $6,500. BSN Online obtained a copy of the report by filing a Right-To-Know request.
Peg Pennepacker, former athletic director for State College Area School District, founded and leads High School Title IX Compliance Services. When contacted, Pennepacker referred all questions to the district.
To further demonstrate gender imbalance, the review singled out the junior varsity and varsity softball field. While the review describes the baseball field and locker room as excellent, it considers the softball fields to be in poor condition. Tucked away behind the middle school, the fields are isolated from the high school’s locker rooms. At the time of the review’s completion, the team lacked many of the amenities that their male counterparts enjoy, including lights for night games.
Juliana Lueders, a member of the team for four years, has felt the field’s lack of quality. “The infield has always been super hard. We always joke that it’s like concrete,” she said. Leuders attributes the field’s troubles to rare upkeep, and while Lueders did mention improvements made, she is unsure whether those updates actually improved the field’s overall quality.
“If you look at it, [the field] looks nice. You can definitely see that money’s been thrown at it, but there’s not a lot of care,” she said.
Leuders believes that girls sports do not get as much attention. “ I think there’s a bigger focus on the male sports teams,” she said. “It’s just a success and money type of issue.”
Ward leads the district’s efforts to ensure Title IX compliance. She noted that most districts reviewed for Title IX compliance do not meet Title IX requirements, and the district was being proactive in investigating the subject.
“In some regards, I was pretty pleased with the findings. Pennepacker told us that every district [she] has gone to has not been compliant, and most of the time it’s pretty extreme as to what’s going on. Most districts aren’t trying to be proactive like [Township] is,” she said.
Ward expressed concern over the influence of outside parties, such as booster clubs and private donors, whose donations may offset the balance in favor of boys’ teams. “There is a misconception… that money [from booster clubs and private donors] is somehow outside of Title IX, and it’s not. If we accept it, then it’s part of Title IX. Certainly if I look at what’s our biggest hurdle, that’s it,” she said. Ward is planning on revising the district’s policies to allow greater supervision of booster clubs.
Rilatt believes that it is important for the high school to communicate with athletes, coaches, students, and booster clubs about Title IX.
“One thing I am certain of is that everyone has the best interest of our students: our coaches, teachers, administration, and that also extends to parents,” Rilatt said. “Everybody’s trying to help and assist, but we just need to be in concert.”
The district is working proactively to address the disparities raised in the report, according to Ward. Seventh grade girls’ basketball has been reinstated and the district plans to offer competitive cheerleading, though the latter does not count toward Title IX. Ward believes that it is important that the school district communicate with coaches, helping them encourage female athletes. In terms of improvements to the softball field, Ward and Rilatt mentioned the addition of a new layer on the field, a batting cage and a storage facility among other improvements, though both said that the middle school construction has delayed extensive repairs.
Kirk Luther, head varsity coach of the softball team, is pleased with the school’s initiatives.
“They’ve been great,” he said. “They’ve been communicative. We’ve had meetings, and they’ve heard what our concerns are. They’ve come up with a plan to address those concerns.” Luther also stressed that the district was working around the schedule of the middle school’s construction. Lights will be added to the field in a few years, according to Luther.
“There have been things that we’ve liked to see addressed, and they are being addressed,” he said. “In terms of the other things we’ve had concerns about, at this point it’s a matter of patience.”
Rilatt said that a complete response to the report would develop over the years. “This isn’t just fixing any [disparity] that comes to our attention, and then we’ll be done with Title IX overnight,” he said. “This is going to be about how we operate on a regular basis to provide all of our students with what they need, academically as well as athletically. This is a long haul.”