Who’s minding the gender gaps?
Second in a series
The U.S. Department of Education is responsible for enforcing Title IX, but unless someone reports a violation it is generally assumed that the nation’s high schools are providing equal athletic opportunities for girls and boys.
More than 3.4 million girls and almost 4.6 million boys play high school sports in the United States, according to the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism. The Povich Center, in collaboration with Merrill College’s Howard Center for Investigative Journalism, in April released results of a four-month investigation into Title IX and Maryland high school sports, revealing three key points:
- Title IX and high school athletics “aren’t aggressively monitored by state or federal government officials.”
- Most parents and students “aren’t well informed” about the law.
- Title IX enforcement protocols “are slow-moving.”
What about Minnesota high schools? Does the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) handle Title IX complaints when brought up?
“MDE does not take Title IX complaints, which are directed to the [federal] Office for Civil Rights,” explained a department spokesperson. “Unfortunately, we do not have information on how/if school districts are complying.
“MDE does however conduct periodic civil rights compliance reviews of a small number of high schools each year as well as collecting athletic data reporting annually. This requires school districts to report data on the athletic opportunities provided to students and the gender of students participating in each activity to demonstrate that athletic opportunities are provided equitably as required by Title IX.”
Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) offers 35 high school athletic programs for students in grades 7-12. Antony Fisher, the district athletic director since 2018, provided us the following sports participation by gender numbers for the past six years, along with this sports year:
2015-16: 2,667 girls, 2,793 boys
2016-17: 2,905 girls, 2,998 boys
2017-18: 2,326 girls, 2,494 boys
2018-19: 2,121 girls, 2.304 boys
2019-20: 1,560 girls, 1,884 boys (spring sports season canceled due to pandemic)
2020-21: 1,793 girls, 2,019 boys
2021-22: 1,475 girls, 1,567 boys
Said Fisher in a recent MSR phone interview, “We offer 21 sports in which boys can participate that the district actually sponsors, and we offer 24 and three additional sports for girls—badminton, gymnastics and volleyball, which is only for girls. Girls are allowed to participate in sports like baseball, football and wrestling.”
The pandemic, which shut down sports in 2020, did affect district sports, which MPS is slowly recovering from number-wise, said Fisher. “I don’t think we’re ever going to be back to normal,” he continued.
“As the numbers don’t lie, we’re starting now to trend back to increasing in our numbers,” but he notes that other factors come into play, such as transfers.
“Depending on the sport, there always will be a gender gap,” Fisher pointed out. “There’s never going to be a sport that closes the gap on a sport like football. As it relates to boys’ and girls’ basketball, more than likely there’s going to be more boys [participating in] a boys’ basketball program within a specific school versus a girls’ program.”
Instead, Fisher said his district battles a financial gap in athletics in order to keep up with other school districts. He would prefer “being able to build facilities that will keep our kids in Minneapolis and our coaches to a level that some of our suburban counterparts are funding coaches, to keep those coaches in our district.
“We have to continue to upgrade our facilities.”
Next: Title IX has been a boon for female participation in sport since its passage. Is that the same for Black females?
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.